Texas’ enormous economic success the past couple of decades is revealing troubling weaknesses in our state’s educational system and workforce.
Texas unemployment is at the lowest rate ever, but many companies must hire out-of-staters because we don’t have enough native Texans with the right education to fill the jobs. Our education system lags below that of other states, and though our GDP is gangbusters, too many families struggle with poverty.
These problems feel overwhelming, too big for one company or school to fix, too big for lawmakers to solve in one legislative session. What we need is a group of Texans with a long-term vision and the financial and political resources to make things happen. Tom Luce is gathering those people.
Luce, a Dallas lawyer and longtime advocate for education reform, started Texas 2036, a nonprofit that aims to use data and research to help Texas solve these long-term, structural problems. The idea is to put the state on firmer footing by 2036, the Texas bicentennial. The group, founded in 2016, launched a meaty data website last fall.
On Wednesday, the organization reached another milestone by naming a chief executive, Margaret Spellings. Spellings was U.S. Secretary of Education under George W. Bush and most recently was president of the University of North Carolina System. She also served as the head of the George W. Bush Foundation.
We don’t know if Luce and Spellings can solve Texas’ education and workforce issues. We do know that nobody else has gathered so much data with the intention of finding solutions. Texans don’t even have a common understanding about what success looks like, or which data sets are useful and which are noise.
There are lots of encouraging educational and career pilot projects happening across the state, including within our own Dallas ISD. DISD is a great example of an institution that is earnestly trying to solve problems, and has discovered a number of things that work. But like so many other groups, Dallas ISD hasn’t scaled its success to reach every student. We hope the work of Texas 2036 can help DISD and the rest of the state bridge that gap.
This type of long-term strategic thinking is not common in our corporations and government institutions; election cycles and career trajectories keep even the most good-hearted Texans focused on short-range improvements. We can’t yet know if Texas 2036 will succeed. What we do know is that this is the kind of work that is crucial for finding the right solutions to be successful. In less than two decades, Texas will celebrate its 200th birthday. Exactly how much it will have to celebrate will depend on this kind of work.