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TX on the Radio: Houston Billionaires Donate $10 Million to Head Start

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On Wednesday’s edition of Marketplace, Noel King reported on the recent “philanthropic urge” that has been striking certain people of means during the government shutdown. King points to Houston’s own John and Laura Arnold, who made headlines this week when they donated $10 million from their personal coffers to keep Head Start going in six states. 

John Arnold ranked on Forbes’ latest list of wealthiest Americans and is number 21 on the list of richest Texans. That such a generous gift—and one for a federal education program, no less—would come from Texans should come as no surprise to people who read Texas Monthly senior editor Erica Grieder’s report on philanthropy in Texas. As Grieder wrote in the October issue: 

Texas has always been fiscally conservative, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are running it. We have one of the lowest tax burdens per capita in the country and, correspondingly, one of the lowest spending rates. This is partly by design. The state’s practical reach is limited by certain constitutional and legal restrictions on taxing and spending—even if we elected a bunch of commies, they wouldn’t be able to triple the size of government overnight.

It would be wrong, however, to infer from this that Texas is a fundamentally ungenerous state, where neighbors don’t believe in helping neighbors. In fact, this is a place where, because the government does so little, other players have to do more. It’s been this way since the frontier days, when public spending of any kind was unpredictable and usually pretty paltry. In the Republic of Texas, the Rangers were funded by the government, as a shoestring form of national defense, and in lean years they were sometimes decommissioned. Yet at such moments, they usually kept working as volunteers. Even after Texas became a state, with a more stable approach to such matters, this phenomenon persisted. Throughout the twentieth century, major public works projects were often proposed by private citizens and paid for by private wealth.

Listen to the Marketplace segment here: 

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