AUSTIN -- Texas ranks near the bottom of all states in taxing and spending per capita, but is dead last in the percentage of adults with a high school diploma, according to a study released Tuesday by a panel of mostly Democratic lawmakers.
The biennial study, "Texas on the Brink," compared Texas to the rest of the country based on various functions of government, including public education and taxing, and other measures, such as air quality and health concerns.
It was compiled using information from numerous government and nonprofit reports including census data, the National Center for Children and Poverty and the Kaiser Family Foundation. The report didn't list how other states ranked.
Lawmakers who serve in the Legislative Study Group, which prepared the rankings, called Texas' performance "abysmal" and urged the state's Republican leadership to use the poor showing as inspiration to improve.
Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured children and ranks near last in the amount of state and local money spent per student in public schools. It also found that Texas "has the dirtiest air in the nation," said Rep. Elliot Naishtat, treasurer of the 35-member panel.
The group took over the study this year from a retired El Paso lawmaker, former Democratic Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, who began releasing the study in 2003. At the time, Texas ranked near the bottom in almost each category, and "sadly this is still true today," said Naishtat, D-Austin.
"We've earned a reputation as first in jails and last in schools. Given that we lead the nation in the number of people we execute and the fact that we're last in high school graduation rates, I'd say that we've lived up to our reputation," Naishtat said.
Conservatives quickly criticized the report.
"This report makes for some interesting trivia, but if Texas is such a horrible place, why have 4.5 million people moved here in the last decade?" questioned Arlene Wohlgemuth, executive director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank.
"Because what people care most about are jobs -- and on that measurement, Texas ranks first," she said, referring to recent unemployment figures from the Texas Workforce Commission.
The report ranked Texas first among U.S. states in carbon dioxide emissions and for the amount of hazardous waste generated, second in the number of students enrolled in public schools and seventh in teenage birth rate.
Texas ranked 33rd in the average salary of public school teachers, and 46th and 47th respectively for tax revenue raised per capita and tax expenditures per capita. The state ranked 49th in both average credit score and the percent of its low-income population covered by Medicaid. Texas was ranked last in the percent of pregnant women receiving prenatal care in their first trimester.
Democratic Rep. Alma Allen, a former teacher and principal, was disappointed by some of the education-related rankings, including that Texas ranked 44th in the amount of state and local money spent per student in public schools.
"As an educator, I'm appalled today," Allen said. "The rest of the country is moving forward and Texas children are being left behind ... The proposed budget will only exacerbate that problem."
Rep. Lon Burnam, vice-chairman of the group, warned not to expect improvement. The Fort Worth Democrat noted that Texas was facing a revenue shortfall of more than $15 billion, which was largely caused by an overhaul of the state's tax structure.
"We're going to get worse because of our budget crisis, created by the people that are in charge of state government," the Fort Worth Democrat said.