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State rates poorly in several key areas

Feb. 16, 2001

Texas has a lot to be proud of. We have a beautiful Capitol, a history that consists of tales of oil findings, cowboys and great battles. The geography of Texas is as diverse as its people. And the enormous population of Texas ensures our influence on the national scene. But despite the pride we all have in this state, it just isn't worthy of the praise we give it. A new compilation of statistics released by Texans for Public Justice -- a non-partisan, non-profit research and advocacy organization based in Austin -- tells the sad reality of our state.

The report, The State of the Lone Star State: How Life in Texas Measures Up, singles out many major societal issues and shows where Texas ranks among other states. And in every area, our 'great' state performs average or poorly, if not dead worst. The report shows that from the environment, education, human services and the economy, to public safety and voter participation, Texas has little to be proud of.

For this column, I think the statistics tell the story better than words or commentary can, so here are the statistics that expose the dirty reality behind our 'proud' state.

On the environment:

Texas is No. 1 in criteria air pollutants (otherwise known as smog- and acid rain- forming chemicals); No. 2 in ozone pollution exposure; No. 1 in toxic and cancerous air emissions; No. 1 in carbon dioxide emissions; No. 1 in hazardous air pollutants; No. 2 in mercury air emissions; No. 1 in ammonia air emissions; No. 1 in clean-water permit violators; No. 1 in toxic and cancerous water emissions; No. 1 in animal manure; and No. 1 in energy consumption. Yet, Texas is only No. 18 in per capita spending on air quality; No. 38 in water-quality planning; No. 22 in spending on alternative transportation; No. 31 in transportation and land-use planning; No. 49 in park spending and acreage; and No. 46 in open space protections.

On education:

Texas is No. 32 on spending per pupil; No. 36 in teacher salaries; No. 5 in costs to modernize schools; No. 19 in average SAT scores; No. 45 in percentage of high school graduates; No. 46 in percentage of high school dropouts; No. 29 in higher education appropriations; No. 30 in public college instructor salaries; and No. 46 in spending on libraries.

On human services:

No. 2 in poor kids without health insurance; No. 47 in child immunizations rate; No. 1 in people without health insurance; No. 3 in malnourishment percentage; No. 45 in drug and alcohol treatment; No. 44 in public and mental health spending; and No. 47 in total welfare benefits paid.

On the economy:

Texas is No. 27 in average per capita income; No. 7 in income distribution disparity; No. 10 in percentage of people in poverty; No. 25 in children whose parents lack full-time jobs; No. 25 in children in one-parent households; No. 1 in job-discrimination lawsuits filed; No. 50 in state general revenue and spending; No. 45 in homeownership and No. 1 in homeowner's insurance costs.

On public safety:

Texas is No. 16 in crime rate; No. 1 in adults in the criminal justice system; No. 9 in recidivism rate; No. 40 in money spent per prisoner; No. 1 in gun retailers; No. 1 in registered machine guns; No. 1 in traffic fatalities; and No. 1 in alcohol-related traffic fatalities.

And finally, on voter participation:

Texas is No. 46 in voter registration, No. 25 in minority voter registration and No. 47 in voter turnout.

This is a long, and exhausting list, but it cannot be ignored. Critics of the report argue that because Texas is the second most populous state, it will naturally be at the top (or bottom, as the case may be) of these lists. But that excuse does not work, because most of these numbers are percentages of the population and per capita numbers that allow for fair comparisons between states.

Texas has huge problems. We've done a pretty good job of covering up our many faults, with our exaggerated pride in our state. But the numbers do not lie. It's time Texans come to terms with these problems and do something about them.