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Mit’Sgi” C”0:$4*Sc ,sk’ aijS\\ c “AY FEATURE Thinking Outside the Texas Box How other states deal with some of the problems facing Texas BY PAUL SWEENEY an Texas learn from other Cstates? Sure it can. After all, busi nesses learn from each other all the time. They call it adopt ing “best practices.” So why can’t Texas government take a page out of the corporate playbook, consider what “best practices” are occurring elsewhere, and apply those lessons here at home? Consider the conundrum of education funding. Largely because of a rickety school finance system, Texas’ population is mired in a condition approaching, if not outright ignorance, at least second-class educational status. According to recent figures compiled by Sen. State ranks 46th among the 50 states in the percentage of its adult population with high school diplomas. Texas is in 50th placedead lastin high school completion rates. As the Texas Legislature convenes, moreover, the state is under a court order to revamp its system of school funding, which has been declared unconstitutional. Texas is not alone in short-changing its schools, of course. But one state that is doing a better job than most in confronting the difficult task of paying for its children’s education is Illinois, which faces many of the same issues that vex Texas, such as a huge influx of immigrants who do not speak English at home. In addition to school finance, the Observer decided to look at how other states are responding to several issues that areor ought to beon the Legislature’s radar screen: the minimum wage, payday loans, and publicly financed elections. Clearly this is not an exhaustive list. It leaves out numerous critical issues such as child protective services and children’s health care. There is no shortage of worthy efforts among the other 49 states to improve public safety and reform prison systems, modernize mass transportation and reverse environmental degradationparticularly in the areas of ozone air pollution and toxic hazardous waste emissions. As the session unfolds, the Observer hopes to revisit the land of best practices with its bounty of workable solutions for Texas. SCHOOL FINANCE When it comes to financing its schoolsindeed when it comes to finding revenues to support state government and public servicesTexas is in a fix. The optimum solution is the one that can’t be contemplated. On January 10, the Texas comptroller announced that the state will have $64.7 billion in general revenue available for the next two years, about $7 billion short of what is needed to maintain current programs and restore services cut during the last session, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a non-profit think tank in Austin. Much of the new funding will be earmarked to support the 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER .1/21/05