What is the Texas way of life?
For generations, the phrase has evoked independence, confidence, and generosity. It speaks to an abundance of opportunities for every Texan to earn a living, raise a family, and leave an even stronger state to their children.
Texas’ defining challenge is now to ensure that future generations have the same kinds of opportunities that past generations had. These opportunities defined the economic growth of recent decades known as the “Texas Miracle.”
But after the past two tumultuous years — defined by crises like COVID-19 and Winter Storm Uri and a host of social and political issues — many are now looking for policies that will engage Texans to create a prosperous future.
Our state is the 9th largest economy of the world, powered by a growing, diverse population and business-friendly approach with a proven, prosperous track record.
This gives us a unique opportunity to rally around an equally positive, hopeful vision of the future.
That must start now, in 2022, when every statewide office will be on the ballot. This is a crucial moment to communicate our priorities that we want to tackle next. Investing in our state’s people should be at the top of the list.
Much of the Texas economy is built on the education and skills of our workforce. But today, on a wide range of measures, Texas has become one of the lowest performing states. More than half of Texas students can’t read at grade level, and nearly three-fourths can’t do math at grade level. This translates to one of the nation’s worst adult literacy rates — an unsustainable headwind as Texas competes in a tech-heavy global economy.
Students in Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, California, Virginia, and North Carolina are reading at higher levels than Texas students. If they can do it, why can’t we?
Our way of life and the promise of the Texas Miracle has led to jaw-dropping population growth. Texas welcomes an average of 850 new people every day. Our population is approaching 30 million, and will likely surpass 40 million by 2036, Texas’ bicentennial. Our state should be a workforce powerhouse.
And Texas can be — if we better leverage the $100 billion taxpayers spend every year on workforce and education to address the growing gap between the skills employers need and those that Texans have.
By 2036, more than 70 percent of jobs are expected to require a postsecondary credential. But today, only 32 percent of Texas’ high school graduates earn such credentials within six years of completing high school. Thanks to new legislation by Texas lawmakers, that should be changing. But we can’t afford to let our guard down.
It’s time for Texans to ask whether we’re living up to the promise of the Texas way of life. It’s time to ask whether that way of life is possible if Texans can’t read or do basic math or can’t get the education, jobs, or services that a good quality of life requires.
Make no mistake: Texas is a great place. But to keep it that way, we must do better.
That starts with an honest assessment of where we are. And it requires every Texan to take part in the conversation to plot the path forward. That’s why Texas 2036 was founded – to provide the resources, drive, and urgency to tackle big, long-term challenges, and we encourage all Texans to join our efforts to do so today.
Apathy and indifference aren’t Texas values. Real Texans will always be connected by decency, honesty, hard work, and the determination to leave things better for our kids.
Those are the values that must define the Texas way of life. This year, let’s come together and show the world what Texas is made of.
Margaret Spellings, former U.S. Secretary of Education, is president and CEO of Texas 2036. This op ed first appeared in the Austin American-Statesman.