In 2036, Texas will celebrate its bicentennial. It’s estimated that Texas will add 10 million people to its current population of 29 million by then. Depending on whether or not California’s population continues to hold firm at 39.6 million or stagnates due to people leaving the state, Texas could be the most populous state in the U.S. in the future.
Some people may have an image of Texas reflected from old Western movies and stories of the Texas Rangers. In fact, cattle, bison, cotton, timber, and oil were the main industries in Texas prior to World War II. Since the middle of the 20th century, Texas has diversified the industries that it serves and is number one among U.S. states for tourism, agriculture, petrochemicals, energy, computers and electronics, aerospace, and biomedical sciences. Since 2002, Texas has led the U.S. in export revenue.
During my decades-long quest to examine ways to lower the cost and time to complete a college degree, I’ve followed some of the programs implemented in Texas. Whether it’s the increasing numbers of high school students participating in dual enrollment programs to earn a year or more of college credit by the time they graduate from high school, the implementation of blockchain credentials for high school and community college students, or former governor Rick Perry’s challenge to create a $10,000 bachelor’s degree, Texas has been willing to pilot and expand education programs at scale and a rate that outpaces most other states. Much of the data from these programs is available on the Internet, creating a culture of transparency.
During a recent search for current data relating to Texas’ dual enrollment programs, I found a reference to a program called Texas 2036. As it turns out, Texas 2036 is a non-profit organized to engage in conversations about the challenges that Texas faces and to offer non-partisan ideas and solutions grounded in research and data to break through gridlock. Its mission is simple: To enable Texans to make policy decisions through accessible data, long-term planning and statewide engagement. Its approach is: Envision a stronger future through data and research; spur strategic action through planning, leadership, and coalition-building; and ensure meaningful change through accountability.
A recent post on its website addressed methodologies to track COVID-related learning loss. The organization reported that optional beginning-of-year assessments in K-12 showed that only 29% of Texas third-graders achieved “meets grade level” in reading, only 15% of Texas fourth-graders achieved “meets grade level” in math, and only 12% of Texas fifth-graders achieved “meets grade level” in science. The researchers compared the beginning-of-year assessments with previous year as well as nationally available data. Their conclusion – while K-8 students held ground in reading, they lost ground in math.
On the Texas 2036 blog, there are a number of “Shaping Our Future” topic areas. Included are topics such as:
- Recognizing Texas Counties are as Unique as Texas
- It’s Time to Double Down on Higher Ed
- Texas’ future is in its people
Over the summer, Texas 2036 issued a strategic framework that set out 36 goals in 7 policy areas, ranging from prosperity and quality of life, education and health, and infrastructure and government performance. The report offers about 160 key performance indicators (KPIs) from a number of datasets to measure Texas’ progress. The goals are aspirational, and the report is direct and transparent.
While it may be argued that 34 of the 36 goals are transferrable to most states (carving out ag- and energy-producing goals), the objectives are clear and measurable. The organization indicates what data they intend to produce to report their periodic measurements of progress.
Importantly, Texas 2036 is taking a long-term view instead of attempting to solve the current urgent problems. At the same time, they are not sugarcoating the challenges that they have to solve. A paragraph from their framework that appears to summarize their approach is:
“The challenges will be many. Texas has struggled to effectively educate all students so they can actively participate in an increasingly modern economy. Health expenditures are ballooning, while Texas ranks in the bottom half of U.S. states on many health measures. We must prepare for a radical shift in how people and goods are moved, as alternative types of mobility become commonplace. We must ensure responsible use of our natural resources and balance economic value with stewardship for future generations. We must better protect our most vulnerable populations. And we must think differently about how this $250 billion enterprise we call the State of Texas best allocates resources to provide the greatest opportunity for the greatest number of Texans.”
Texas 2036 not only reports its data comparing itself to the 49 other states but has selected 11 Peer States. The Peer States are New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Colorado, California, and Washington. Many of the targets for the 36 goals are based on the Peer States.
Texas 2036 believes that there is a significant opportunity for Texas and its Peer States to partner on collecting and disseminating data and to convene for discussions about common challenges and innovative practices. Since Texas and the 11 Peer States account for 58% of the U.S. population and 62% of the nation’s GDP, collaborative actions should help the states and the nation to move forward on these goals.
The Texas 2036 initiative is impressive. What would be more impressive are similar initiatives by all 50 states with ambitious goals, transparently reported. In a nation where we have so many critical issues with little agreement between our politicians as to how to solve them, initiatives like this are important, particularly for the transparent and regular publication of data being measured against ambitious goals. If Texas 2036 is truly a bipartisan initiative, I hope it sets an example for all states and our country.