U.S. mayors cite education as major priority at Dallas conference

By Scott Nishimura snishimura@bizpress.net

DALLAS – U.S. mayors committed Friday to improving public education as a major means to improving the nation’s economy.

“You cannot have a great city without great public schools,” Kevin Johnson, Sacramento mayor and former National Basketball Association star, told reporters at the U.S. Conference of Mayors 2014 conference in Dallas being attended by more than 200 mayors.

“We believe very strongly that as a country, we are losing our competitive edge,” and education is of key importance in recovering it, Johnson, the mayors conference 2014 president, said.

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A conference task force chaired by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, and including Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck, on Friday unveiled its first “Education Report Card” comparing 21 cities on measures such as college readiness, reading, English and math proficiency, average expenditure per pupil, average teacher salary, average teacher experience, total teachers, graduation rates, average SAT and ACT scores, and percentage of adults with high school diplomas.

Dallas was one of the 21 cities, which were chosen because they were determined to have comparable data.

“College readiness,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings answered in an interview, when asked which statistic he viewed as most important. “In Dallas, it’s bad.”

On average SAT score, for one, Dallas posted 1272, compared to 1698 in Denver and 1404 in Sacramento. On percentage of adults with a high school diploma, Dallas had 74.3 percent compared to 85.9 percent in Denver and 83.4 percent in Sacramento.

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The report was preliminary, with a final report due in several months.

“I do think mayors have an incredible bully pulpit” they must use on education, Price said in an interview. “It’s economic development, it’s jobs.”

The mayor’s conference also published a new economic report that estimated 60 percent of U.S. metropolitan areas will have regained the recessionary jobs they lost by the end of 2015. The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area is estimated to have fully rebounded by the second quarter of 2012.

The reported projected real U.S. economic growth of 2.3 percent this year.

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The mayor’s conference said growth in cities will propel the recovery.

“Cities are back in a major way,” said Johnson, who said he’ll focus on infrastructure, sustainability, income equality, trade, and education during his presidency.

Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington key measures in the economic report:

* Sixth in projected 2015 gross metropolitan product at $491.1 billion, up from a projected $464.7 billion in 2014.

* 32nd in gross metropolitan product worldwide, if it were a country.

* 20th in projected annual growth rate through 2020 at 4 percent, compared to other U.S. metros.

* 30.2 percent of Texas’ gross state product.

* 3 percent projected 2014 employment growth, and 2.9 percent projected 2015 employment growth.

* 34th among U.S. metros in change in gross metropolitan product from 2010 to 2012 at 3.8 percent, compared to 15.6 percent for No. 1 Odessa and 10.3 percent for No. 2 Midland.

*3.3 percent projected 2014 growth in gross metropolitan product, and 4.5 percent projected 2015 growth.