Texas lawmakers received well-deserved high-fives for finally pumping billions of dollars into education this session. School districts had to have a bigger contribution from the state to improve the chances for success of Texas’ 5 million public school children.
We know improving education fuels progress in multiple other areas. And a new Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation underscores just how far Texas kids have to go.
The news in this year’s national annual review of several indicators isn’t good.
Texas ranked 41st — one of the 10 worst states for kids — in child well-being. States were ranked across four areas — health, education, economic well-being, and family and community — and Texas was near the bottom in every category.
Sadly, it was no surprise that Texas ranked 39th in kids’ economic well-being. It’s shameful that in a state with so much overall economic success, the child poverty rate remains alarmingly high. A fifth of Texas’ 7.4 million children are poor. In Dallas alone, 1 in 3 children grow up poor.
This persistent conundrum is the reason we’re so encouraged by the nonprofit Child Poverty Action Lab’s efforts to leverage collective resources to try to break the cycle of generational poverty here. We can’t wait to see the strategies this community’s policymakers come up with to combat poverty’s dire effects on education, health and jobs and housing.
This work matters to all of us because the long-term economic cost of more than 115,000 local children growing up in poverty today exceeds $185 billion, the nonprofit reports.
As distressing, Texas has the highest number of uninsured kids in the country. Data shows that more than a fifth of the nation’s uninsured children are in Texas. That’s about 835,000 kids.
And the state is again one of the 10 worst states in the rate of teen births. Though teen births are down overall over the decade, Texas and Dallas’ numbers outpace many other cities. We know these kids face the most challenges to escape lives of poverty.
It all adds up to Texas being a tough state in which to be a kid.
But we agree with Ann Beeson, the CEO of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, who says there’s promise in that there are common-sense policy solutions to better conditions for kids. “We just have to have the political will,” she says.
For example, the report highlighted the critical need for an accurate 2020 Census, which will determine the allocation of billions of dollars for health care, housing and food programs that Texas kids and families count on.
What’s more, Texas lawmakers did nothing this session to reduce the number of residents — vulnerable kids and women of child-bearing age, in particular — who lack health insurance.
Still, our representatives have cleared a major hurdle with education funding. We’re hopeful that by this time next year when the state’s bigger contribution has taken hold, the picture will look brighter for our kids. Texas won’t keep doing well unless its children are.