Photo: justraveling.com via Flickr user Paolo.

This week, Army Corps funds could be diverted from flood projects, Austin confronts dropping student enrollment, new research on the gap between reality and perception when it comes to racial economic progress and a chance for school funding reform.

Title Page

White House Eyes Army Corps Funds to Build Wall. Houston Chronicle.

Introduction

Closing Schools, Shrinking Enrollment Make for Tense Times at Austin ISD. Austin Chronicle.

Templeton Demographics, the Dallas research firm that helped conduct the forecast, attributes the enrollment decline to a variety of factors, including competition from charter schools, unaffordable in-district housing markets, and "increasing urbanization." Roughly three-quarters of AISD students reside in single-family homes, according to the report, but Austin has seen development of smaller and/or more expensive housing units, which AISD Director for Planning Services Beth Wilson described in an interview Tuesday as "not the most family friendly" of housing types, a concern that's shared by much of the new pro-housing City Council.

Executive Summary

Americans are, for the most part, pretty comfortable with the idea that the country's overall trajectory has been positive and has brought greater equality for all. But that's not necessarily in line with the numbers. A new paper that summarizes a series of studies from a team of Yale University researchers tries to document and explain the gap between many people's assessment of current racial inequality and the stark reality of it.

"[A]lthough there has undoubtedly been progress toward racial equality," the paper notes, "the American racial progress narrative, we argue, over-estimates the successes and under-estimates the setbacks, so as to result in an unfounded optimism about racial equality in both the present and in prospects for equality in the future."

The researchers asked white and black respondents to estimate how much racial economic progress had been made for measures like wealth and income. They found that while people tended to have a grasp of past disparity, they overestimated the progress made in evening things up, particularly when it came to wealth. "This is especially distressing," the paper notes, "given that wealth is the most consequential index of economic well-being as it provides a more effective safety net for families when facing unexpected financial shocks, relative to other economic indicators, such as income."

The researchers then surveyed some 1,008 adults across the country, asking each what they thought the gap was between the wealth of a typical black family versus a typical white family at various points in time. Again, respondents tended to get less accurate the closer they got to present day: "Respondents thought that the Black-White wealth gap was around 40 percentage points smaller than its actual size in 1963 and around 80 percentage points smaller than its actual size in 2016."

They found similar underestimates when they asked survey respondents about other white-non-white wealth gaps. "Notably, however," the report continues, "whereas on average, underestimates of the Latinx-White wealth gap were similar in magnitude to those regarding the Black-White wealth gap, underestimates of the Asian-White wealth gap were more modest in size, due primarily to greater parity in Asian-White family household wealth."

In the end, the researchers found that "Americans of all races and economic circumstances falsely believe that there has been substantial progress in closing racial economic gaps over the past 50-some years." In order to remedy this, the researchers argue, it's important to not just better educate people, particularly white people who tended to have the most optimistic and out of touch views about racial economic progress, about existing inequality but to emphasize the structural causes underlying it.

"Of course," the study continues, "one way to increase the accuracy of people’s perceptions of racial economic equality is to actually increase economic equality—that is, reduce inequality."

Conclusion

It's early yet but there are some signs that this latest state legislative session may actually bring some school funding reform to Texas. Politicians have reiterated their interest in "bread and butter" issues in the lead up the session's start following a sobering election for the Republicans and the new House Speaker Dennis Bonnen has echoed that sentiment, saying he's not interested in the distracting politics of another "bathroom bill." 

Now, Christopher Hooks offers more cause to be cautiously optimistic in his latest Texas Observer piece. "In the past," he writes, "Lege-watchers could often predict the major plot points well in advance. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, for example, typically advertises his intentions with neon signs. In early 2016, Patrick announced at that year’s demoralized and schizoid Texas GOP Convention that he would dedicate himself to the issue of bathroom policy. For the next year and a half, all the way through a pointless special session in the summer of 2017, he made potty politics his primary focus, with most everything else at the Lege orbiting around that."

So far on that front, there seems to be silence, or as Hooks puts it, "there’s nothing so far this year that compares to Patrick’s potty talk."

There are still opportunities for meaningful reform to go wrong, and as Hooks points out, something like a progressive income tax to fully fund schools seems all but impossible. But, still, it seems they've at least got to do something, particularly Republicans who still hold control. "This session is a midpoint between a rough election for the party and what could be an even rougher one," concludes Hooks. "What do they do? They’ve got 139 days to figure it out." Hooks himself said on Twitter he's not "too optimistic...but who knows!"

Ah yes, #txlege is back.

Endnotes