Steve Murdock isn’t a household name in Sacramento – but maybe he should be.
Murdock is the former state demographer in Texas. This month, he testified in a trial in which hundreds of Texas school districts are suing the state for failing in its constitutional obligation to adequately fund its schools.
The suit was prompted by the $5.4 billion the Legislature cut from public school funding and education grant programs last year. If that level of funding continues, Murdock warned, businesses will go elsewhere in search of skilled workers. Texas’s average household income, now about $66,000 a year, could shrink by $7,700 by 2050 which, of course, could cost the state many more billions – in taxes and prison and welfare costs – than it’s saving now.
Murdock, echoing parts of a forecast he first issued in 2003, also pointed out that if Texas, like California, now a majority-minority state, educated its poor and non-Hispanic white students to the same level as its Anglos, average household income would increase by $16,000 by 2050. “How well minority populations do in Texas is how well Texas will do,” he told the court.
Substitute California for Texas and adjust the numbers for population differences and you get the same message. Our state funding for schools, never adequate and as inequitable as Texas’s, has shrunk as much in the past half dozen years.
Even if Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30 passes on November 6, and in the highly unlikely event that every additional cent of the estimated $6 billion it would raise goes to schools, our per-pupil school funding would still be below the national average, and far below what would be sufficient, given California’s school population and its needs as a high-tech state. As the old car repair ad used to say, pay me now or pay me later.
Yes, those numbers are only forecasts predicated on today’s conditions, and they may overestimate the benefits of adequate schools. There will always be low-paying jobs and a need for people to do them. If all of today’s children were well educated, would we still have to bring in poor immigrants to do the dirty low-paying jobs that Americans wouldn’t do? Still, does anyone question the general conclusion?
In his earlier forecast, published in his 2003 book, The New Texas Challenge, Murdock provided a lot of other data, which would be applicable here as well. If the state educated its poor and brown and black kids to the same level as its non-Hispanic whites, its prison costs would be 60 percent lower; Medicaid costs 65 percent lower.
Alternatively, without substantial improvement, “Texas would have a population that not only will be poorer, less well educated and more in need for numerous state services than its present population but also less able to support such services. It would have a population that is likely to be less competitive (in the international market).”
In the spring of 2011, a group of Californians led by Assemblyman Dan Logue, most of them Republicans but also including Lieut. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, flew to Austin on what Logue called “an economic fact-finding mission” to learn about what some of them called “the Texas Miracle.” They didn’t notice the price of the “miracle.”
Part of it was sheer politics, including, no doubt, a subtle nudge for Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential ambitions, but the talk was about other things: How Texas was creating jobs and snatching (enticing? stealing?) businesses from California and other states; about its friendly business climate.
Not much was said about its dismal state of health care, its high poverty rates, its miserable wage scales; its school funding; its pollution or a regressive tax structure under which the poor pay a larger share of their incomes than the rich. (The same is true in California, but not to the same degree.)
Nor has anyone taken much notice of the fact that for the past couple of years California has been creating jobs at a much higher rate than the nation as a whole, or that the link between “business climate” and unemployment rates is tenuous at best. Nevada, which has the nation’s third friendliest tax structure for business, according to the Tax Foundation, has the nation’s worst unemployment rate. Vermont, rated 47th in the nation for tax friendliness to business, has an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent.
Not much in what Murdock (and others) have been saying is radical or even new. It should almost be self-evident. But in this state, where only 25 percent of schoolchildren are non-Hispanic whites, but 66 percent of likely voters are, it’s not hard to understand why voters are so resistant to tax increases even for public education.
It’s not just brown kids who are getting short-changed; it’s the future of the whole state. That, too, should be obvious, even without Murdock’s kind of numbers.
Peter Schrag is the former editorial page editor and columnist of the Sacramento Bee. He is the author of “Paradise Lost: California’s Experience, America’s Future” and “California: America’s High Stakes Experiment.” His latest book is “Not Fit for Our Society: Immigration and Nativism in America” (University of California Press). He is a frequent contributor to the California Progress Report.
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