Texas cities lag behind in literacy rates

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramFebruary 13, 2013 

— Here's one ranking Gov. Rick Perry probably won't tout as he tries to poach businesses from California: Texas cities continue to lag in an annual study of literacy rates.

Only Austin at No. 23 cracked the top 25 in the 2012 study of literacy resources by John Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University.

Fort Worth inched up two spots to No. 52 while Plano and Dallas climbed to Nos. 45 and 47.

But then again, other than No. 11 San Francisco and No. 15.5 Oakland, California didn't fare all that well in the rankings of 76 cities.

In the battle for the bottom, Texas and California cities owned the last seven spots, including Fresno (70), San Antonio (71), Anaheim, (72), El Paso (73), Stockton (74), Corpus Christi (75) and Bakersfield (76).

The two rival states' biggest cities, Houston and Los Angeles, were tied at a lackluster No. 60.5.

The annual survey of cities of at least 250,000 people focuses on six indicators of literacy: library resources, newspaper circulation, bookstores, publishing resources, educational attainment and Internet resources.

Topping the chart was Washington, D.C., followed by Seattle, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Denver and St. Paul, Minn.

The back-of-the-pack rankings for Texas cities come as no surprise to Peggy Rudd, who recently retired as director of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, which provides support for 560 public libraries statewide.

You get what you pay for, she said.

"The problem is, public libraries are so underfunded and reclamation costs a hell of a lot more than doing it right the first time," she said.

"I guarantee you we're at the bottom or close to it when it comes to spending. It's one of those situations: Thank God for Mississippi because without them we could be in last place. It's sad but true," said Rudd, who saw the Legislature cut funding for the library and archives by 64 percent two years ago.

The cuts included $14 million in state support for local libraries, she said.

Actually, Texas is sitting in the last row next to Tennessee and Mississippi when it comes to per capita funding for libraries, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services in Washington, D.C.

In 2010, Texas spent $19.54 per capita on public libraries, just ahead of Tennessee ($16.65) and Mississippi ($16.29).

By comparison, Washington, D.C., spent $68.15 per capita, followed by Illinois ($65.23) and Ohio ($59.75). Nationally, the average was $37.97.

California finished at No. 33, spending $33.37, $13.83 more than Texas.

But it's not all about the money.

Texans also score low when it comes to actually using public libraries, according to the institute.

The state ranked 48th with 3.44 library visits per capita, just a smidgen ahead of No. 51 Mississippi at 3.34 visits. New Hampshire was No. 1 with 8.18 visits per capita, while California was 35th at 4.63.

In the 2012 literacy study, Fort Worth's and Dallas' highest rankings were No. 16.5 in Internet resources. Austin was No. 6.

The category includes the number of Internet book orders, the number of households owning an e-book reader, and the number of unique visitors and Web page views at the city's Internet newspaper. Fort Worth ranked No. 37.5 in newspaper circulation.

Oddly, Plano ranked No. 1 in educational attainment but only No. 72.5 in newspaper circulation and tied for the bottom with 18 cities, including Arlington, for Internet resources.

Rudd is not optimistic about a Texas turnaround on libraries or literacy.

"The Legislature is talking about more cuts," she said. "To me, it is so shortsighted. If you really want to improve education in Texas, why would you ignore the resource that has 560 outlets scattered across the state that are perfectly prepared to address the problem of literacy?

"Yet the Legislature does ignore them and look where we are."

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