OP-ED: Immediate challenges shouldn’t stop Texas from planning for the future

Published 12:27 am Saturday, June 20, 2020

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By Tom Luce, Margaret Spellings and the Texas 2036 Board of Directors

Texas wouldn’t trade places with any other state.

That’s important to remember during a historic pandemic and downturn in oil prices. Even in the face of these challenges, Texas has the people, resources and drive to bounce back and ensure that future generations of Texans enjoy economic prosperity.

Our future hinges on how well we prepare Texans for the opportunities and challenges we know are coming. That’s why Texas 2036 — the data-driven nonprofit group we lead — created “Shaping Our Future,” a strategic framework that takes a comprehensive look at the forces and issues defining the future of Texas.

By 2036, the year of Texas’s bicentennial, the state is projected to add 10 million people. Shaping Our Future sets out 36 strategic goals across seven policy areas, including education and workforce, health and government performance, that help determine the strength of the state’s economy and overall quality of life. The framework also includes indicators from dozens of publicly available sources to measure progress toward these goals, and it compares Texas with peer states in all of those areas.

This in-depth analysis reveals that even before the pandemic, the state’s economy and quality of life faced headwinds. But the state also enjoys many strengths; our future prosperity depends on how well Texans and our leaders play the cards we’ve been dealt, addressing long-term needs even as we solve short-term crises.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Texas leads the nation in gross domestic product — but it falls to the middle of the pack in quality of life among peer states.
  • Texas performs relatively well in the percentage of households that earn a living wage but trails its peer states in the key metric of fourth-grade reading, which will limit Texans’ ability to engage in the 21st century economy and to ensure that future generations of Texans experience economic prosperity.
  • Texas sees signs of progress around health care availability but is last or near-last among its peers on measures ranging from access to primary care providers to affordability of healthcare — and has one of the highest numbers of rural hospital closures in the country.
  • Texas has tremendous opportunity for innovations like telemedicine and distance learning, but broadband deployment is significantly lacking in rural areas and among the state’s economically disadvantaged households.
  • Texas ranks well in public confidence in government but has widely recognized needs to modernize its data management and talent recruitment.

While each of the seven policy areas has its own opportunities and challenges, the framework also identifies three key themes — equity, rural communities and children — that run through all of the policy areas. These themes highlight the interrelatedness of the issues that matter to our future.

Taken together, the report’s goals and analyses paint an evolving, data-rich portrait of Texas. Shaping Our Future offers a perspective that should guide the state’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis in ways that create future dividends as well as immediate results.

In this, the report truly is what the people of Texas make of it. If Texans and their leaders begin working to make a real difference on these vital issues — especially as we come together to rebuild our economy — then the opportunities it illuminates are clear and promising.

To bring Texans together behind a platform that promotes prosperity, Texas 2036 encourages people across the state to add their names in support of these aspirational goals that directly link to collective prosperity.

To download the report, view the performance indicators and add your name in support of the goals, visit https://texas2036.org/shaping-our-future/.

Tom Luce is founder and board chair of Texas 2036 and a longtime Texas civic leader. Margaret Spellings is the group’s president and CEO and former U.S. Secretary of Education. Texas 2036’s board of directors are listed at www.texas2036.org/board.