Needs improvement

Texas ranks among the least educated states, according to a new study

According to a report, Texas residents are among the least educated. It's up to the current Texas legislative session to implement a funding policy to improve state education. Pexels

When it comes to a population's education, Texans fall in the back of the pack compared to the rest of the country. A recent WalletHub report found that the state was the 12th least educated in America.

The study factored in a total of 20 metrics surrounding educational attainment, quality of schools, and achievement gaps between minorities and genders.

Texas ranked No. 39 overall, however the state managed to rank No. 19 regarding the quality of education. In fact, the state was right in the middle of the pack at No. 26 in the ranking of average university quality. The Lone Star State's downfall might have been coming in at No. 43 in the educational attainment rank.

The top five most educated states according to WalletHub were Massachusetts, Maryland, Vermont, Connecticut, and Colorado, respectively. Earning the titles of least educated states were Mississippi, West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Alabama, in that order.

When WalletHub compared the states' annual median household income rankings to the overall education ranking, the results seemed to be pretty proportional for the states. However, Texas was a bit of an outlier with a better ranking of No. 21 on the income report compared to its No. 39 spot in education.

Last fall, WalletHub found that the state's teaching environment wasn't anything to write home about either. That study factored in teacher salaries, classroom size, and per-student funding from the state, among other aspects.

The 86th Texas Legislature started earlier this month, and at the top of the agenda for the governor is school finance, according to the Texas Tribune, but legislators will be demanding results for whatever funding plan is put in place. As of Friday, however, the Tribune reports that there haven't been very many bills addressing education — and none had outcomes-based incentives.

Last legislative session, a bill established the Texas Commission on Public School finance, according to the Texas Education Agency. The commission recommended a total of $800 million be spent on incentives for improving reading levels and keeping students on track for graduation.

Only time will tell whether legislators take into account the commission's results in the current legislative session, which is expected to conclude on May 27.

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Building Houston

 
 

Veronica Wu, founder of First Bight Ventures, recently announced new team members and her hopes for making Houston a leader in synthetic biology. Photo courtesy of First Bight Ventures

Since launching earlier this year, a Houston-based venture capital firm dedicated to investing in synthetic biology companies has made some big moves.

First Bight Ventures, founded by Veronica Wu, announced its growing team and plans to stand up a foundry and accelerator for its portfolio companies and other synthetic biology startups in Houston. The firm hopes to make Houston an international leader in synthetic biology.

“We have a moment in time where we can make Houston the global epicenter of synthetic biology and the bio economy," Wu says to a group of stakeholders last week at First Bight's Rocketing into the Bioeconomy event. "Whether its energy, semiconductor, space exploration, or winning the World Series — Houstonians lead. It’s in our DNA. While others look to the stars, we launch people into space.”

At First Bight's event, Wu introduced the company's new team members. Angela Wilkins, executive director of the Ken Kennedy Institute at Rice University, joined First Bight as partner, and Serafina Lalany, former executive director of Houston Exponential, was named entrepreneur in residence. Carlos Estrada, who has held leadership positions within WeWork in Houston, also joins the team as entrepreneur in residence and will oversee the company's foundry and accelerator that will be established to support synthetic biology startups, Wu says.

“First Bight is investing to bring the best and the brightest — and most promising — synthetic biology startups from around the country to Houston," Wu continues.

First Bighthas one seed-staged company announced in its portfolio. San Diego-based Persephone Biosciences was founded in 2017 by synthetic and metabolic engineering pioneers, Stephanie Culler and Steve Van Dien. The company is working on developing microbial products that impact patient and infant health.

Wu, who worked at Apple before the launch of the iPhone and Tesla before Elon Musk was a household name, says she saw what was happening in Houston after her brother moved to town. She first invested in Houston's synthetic biology ecosystem when she contributed to one of Solugen's fundraising rounds. The alternative plastics company is now a unicorn valued at over $1 billion.

“I founded First Bight because of what I see is the next great wave of technology innovation," she says at the event. "I founded it in Houston because the pieces are right here.”

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