Texas leaders followed their playbook in 2019. Will they do so this year?
Texas’ 2019 legislative session was one of the most productive in recent years. To quote the Lieutenant Governor, it was the “Super Bowl of Legislative Sessions,” and voters noticed. Well, it’s Super Bowl time again. Will they follow the same playbook?
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Texas’ 2019 legislative session was one of the most productive in recent years. That was due in part to lawmakers’ focus on public education: After years of watching our state fall further behind, the Legislature took meaningful action to improve lives by ensuring all students had access to a quality education.
That, and the tone of bipartisanship, offered a sharp contrast to the rancor seen in Washington. To quote the lieutenant governor, it was the “Super Bowl of legislative sessions.” Voters noticed, sending more incumbents back to Austin than many had predicted.
“Well, it’s Super Bowl time again. With so much on the line, can the state afford a legislative session that achieves anything less than what was accomplished in 2019?”
Amidst a pandemic and with traditional Capitol operations upended, there’s plenty of reason to question whether the Legislature has the appetite to do big things. But Texans won’t settle for running out the clock. Texans want wins.
The Texas Voter Poll, conducted by Texas 2036, the non-partisan think tank focused on the state’s long-term future that I founded, clearly shows Texans want their government to act.
“Over 80% of Texas voters said the Legislature should act now to address challenges highlighted by the pandemic. Almost 90% said they were concerned about the future of Texas.”
Legislators should start by picking up where they left off. With 2019’s House Bill 3, legislators fundamentally overhauled public education — but those reforms largely end when a student finishes high school. The Legislature should certainly stand firm this year and meet the obligations set two years ago, but it also should look to the needs of Texas workers who have graduated from our K-12 system.
The pandemic has disproportionately harmed people who have fewer years of education. In April, at the height of COVID-related unemployment, almost one in five Americans (18%) with a high school diploma or less was unemployed. For those with at least a bachelor’s degree, that figure was only one in 12 (8%).
“Today, even with the vaccine rollout underway, unemployment in Texas remains at 7.2%, more than twice the pre-pandemic level. Economists worry that many of the jobs lost last year may never come back.”
And even before the pandemic, our postsecondary and workforce systems were not optimized to meet the needs of Texans. Too few Texans earned living-wage jobs, especially Texans of color. Employers struggled to find skilled workers who could grow businesses. Texas landed some big corporate relocations, but many Texans were more focused on landing their next big opportunities.
In 2021, to help the Texas economy — the ninth-largest in the world — rebound to its full potential, the state should focus on economic policies that will extend the “Texas Miracle” for future generations.
“This begins with comprehensive workforce reforms that align our educational systems to meet employers’ needs so all Texans can access good jobs. Roughly 84% of Texans agree, according to The Texas Voter Poll. Further, more than three of four voters believe the state should deliver value to taxpayers by measuring which education and workforce programs successfully connect Texans to good-paying jobs.”
As the Legislature returns to Austin, it should focus on helping Texans get back to work — especially through upskilling and reskilling opportunities that can drive economic growth. For current and future students, systems need to be reimagined so that every graduate has marketable skills and a path to a good-paying job.
Even amidst a pandemic, there’s work to be done. The Legislature should take steps to ensure that Texans can recover and thrive in the aftermath of these setbacks.
“Texans sent lawmakers to Austin to do great things; they expect no less this time.”
Tom Luce, a longtime Texas civic leader, is founder and chairman of Texas 2036. To learn more about The Texas 2036 Voter Poll, visit www.texas2036.org/poll.