State still lags in health care, educational comparisons

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Texas ranked 49th in the percentage of low-income people covered by Medicaid and last in both per capita mental health spending and the percentage of the population over 25 with a high school diploma, according to a report from the Texas Legislative Study Group.

The group released its fifth annual “Texas on the Brink” report today, which lists Texas’ rankings as compared to other states in categories such as education, health care and taxes. The first report was published in 2003 by former senator Eliot Shapleigh, who collected information from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and the Texas Legislative Budget Board to create the rankings.

“[The report] gives us the ability to see where we are as a state,” said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, the chair of the Texas Legislative Study Group. “This is pretty much the state of our state.”

Based on the group’s report, the Legislature can address the areas in which Texas ranks lowest. Coleman said Texas had poor ratings in many key areas, especially health spending and education.

“We use those kinds of statistics so we know where we are so we can make policy decision based on the current standing of Texas,” Coleman said.

Although Texas had the second-highest rate of public school enrollment, low high school graduation rates may come from a lack of motivation. Coleman said if more funding were available for high school students to attend college, they might be more successful. Consequently, the Legislature will try to alleviate the problem of high tuition costs, he said.

“If we continue to push tuition off on college students themselves, then the reality is fewer and fewer students will be able to go because we don’t make that up in scholarship dollars,” he said.

However, because of the current $27-billion budget shortfall, it is likely that the rankings will continue to fall, Coleman said. Despite Texas’ money troubles, University Democrats spokesman Cameron Miculka said funding higher education must be a priority for Texas legislators.

”If we want to improve the way Texas looks to the rest of the country, we can’t put education on the chopping block to solve all our problems,” Miculka said.

Although the rankings show that Texas is not doing well in most of these categories, Jessica LaBerge, vice president of College Republicans at Texas, said she does not believe they necessarily mean Texas as a state is doing poorly.

“We are in lower tiers on a lot of rankings, but those rankings don’t speak to the quality of life in the state, and I don’t think they give a complete picture for the state as a whole,” she said. “There are a lot of things we do really well and I think there are things we could work on, but I think that’s true for every state.”