Noted demographer Steve Murdock has been sounding warnings about Texas’ future for decades. His basic message has been that the state faces a dire economic future unless it addresses serious education gaps with minority and low-income students.

Noted demographer Steve Murdock has been sounding warnings about Texas’ future for decades. His basic message has been that the state faces a dire economic future unless it addresses serious education gaps with minority and low-income students.


Obviously, Texas leaders have done little to address Murdock’s warnings, though they’ve certainly heard them.


Murdock, a former state demographer and former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, has collected critical data and his analysis of that data in a new book, "Changing Texas: Implications of Addressing or Ignoring the Texas Challenge," to be released next month.


Murdock, now the director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University, has been a frequent visitor to El Paso over the years, and the community’s leadership is well aware of his message.


A recent article in Texas Tribune included passages from his book, and the warnings will be familiar to anyone who’s heard him speak. But they’re still sobering. "Although closing the socioeconomic gaps for Texas minority populations will be difficult, it is clear that the state is better off if they become better off," one passage from Murdock’s book says.


Here’s another passage that lies at the heart of the message Murdock has been delivering for years: "If Texas fails to adequately educate its growing population of minority students, the state will have a less well educated and a poorer population than it has today. However, if it can successfully educate this population, it could have a younger and more competitive workforce than the nation as a whole."


It’s hard to argue with Murdock’s data, or his conclusions.


Texas’ challenge becomes how to address the problems Murdock identifies.


The Texas school population has exploded over the past decade, with the state adding a million more students since 2000. In that period, the number of low-income students in Texas schools had also grown by more than a million. That means that the entire growth of Texas school population has been in low-income students.


Why is that important? Because research clearly shows that teaching children from low-income families adds additional challenges to schools and is, yes, more expensive.


Texas historically has shown an unwillingness to spend additional money on education, even in the face of Murdock’s warnings. This isn’t to suggest that throwing money at education is, by itself, an answer. The money has to be wisely invested, with a well-defined strategy.


What is clear from Murdock’s work is that Texas staying on its current course would be insane, perhaps suicidal. Dropout rates would rise, the percentage of college graduates will decline, and Texas will be at a competitive disadvantage in the global economy.


But demography is not destiny. Good policies can change our current course.


Murdock’s book would make a good starting point for debate in Texas’ 2014 statewide races.