The Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) released their 2015 State of Texas Children Report on Wednesday. The report connects the issue we can all agree on — children should be well cared for and educated — to the issues that deeply divide the state — universal health insurance, public education funding, and the minimum wage. It also connects the wellbeing of children to the wellbeing of their parents.
The report, authored by Jennifer Lee, is a part of Texas Kids Count, a project of the CPPP. Texas Kids Count is largely supported by Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, whose KIDS COUNT Data Book currently ranks Texas the 43rd best state to be a child – the 7th worst.
Click here to download the full report. Here are three key findings:
- One in four Texas children lives in poverty. For a family of four, that’s less than $24,000 per year. The high child poverty rate combined with a relatively good parental employment rate means that many hard-working Texas parents aren’t earning enough to provide adequately for their kids.
- Despite modest gains for kids, Texas is ranked 49th for the percentage of children with health insurance (13 percent uninsured). Kids are more likely to be uninsured when their parents are uninsured, and Texas continues to have the highest rate of uninsured adults in the nation.
- Nearly two million Texas kids live in households where access to nutritious food is limited and uncertain, threatening children’s health and ability to learn. Expanded school nutrition programs have successfully provided more meals to students, keeping kids healthier and helping them learn.
The State of Texas Children report also included “dares” for the state’s lawmakers and voters, aimed at policies that would change that ranking. Among the dares were the expansion of Medicaid, expanded education funding, and increased minimum wage:
- Invest sufficiently in public education to meet student needs.
- Expand Pre-K statewide to high quality, full-day programs for currently eligible students.
- Close the Coverage Gap, and expand health insurance coverage options for families.
- Provide more support for informal kinship caregivers, and streamline the process for accessing kinship care benefits.
- Raise the state minimum wage, and change the state law that prohibits Texas cities from setting their own minimum wage.
In an interview before the release of the report, Lee broke the research initiative into three questions:
Are the children of Texas healthy?
Are they well-educated?
Are they financially secure?
The assessment of health includes maternal/prenatal health and nutrition, it also includes health insurance.
“I think (insurance coverage) is the most salient health indicator that we have,” Lee said.
In 2013 13% of Texas children did not have health insurance. That’s down from 16% in 2009, but it still ranks Texas as 49th in the country (that’s second worst) for health instance coverage for children.
This is good news, but not unqualified good news, according to the report. When Texas chose not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it allowed a “coverage gap” to form between the eligibility requirements for Medicaid (19% of the poverty rate, or $4,600/year for a family of four) and the eligibility requirements for access to federal subsidies in the marketplace (100-400% of the poverty line, or $23,850-$95,400/ year for a family of four).
Texas now ranks worst in the nation for adult health insurance coverage. Studies show that in families where the parents do now have insurance, the children are less likely to be covered, because the family doesn’t have interaction with the health insurance system. So while expanding CHIP was good for kids, opening up Medicaid to their entire family would be better.
In San Antonio, committed educators and Parent and Family Liaisons try to make up for that handicap by promoting CHIP through the schools. It may not be a coincidence that Bexar County’s uninsured children rate was 10.2% in 2012, better than the state average.
San Antonio is also setting a high bar for offering high quality, full-day public pre-k, which the CPPP chose as its main educational focus. It references the well-documented ties between early childhood education and subsequent academic success.
“If we really think (pre-k) is a good idea then the fairest thing is to offer it to every child in the state,” said Lee.
The CPPP is not alone in looking to the littlest Texans. Gov. Greg Abbott made universal pre-k one of his five emergency legislative items. Lee, however, is one of many analysts concerned about the funding and quality of such an initiative. The CPPP would like to see high quality public pre-k on a full time basis. Currently the state funds public half-day pre-k programs, the quality of which is ranked lowest in the nation, according the State of Texas Children report.
“We’re looking at how the opportunities available to kids in San Antonio can be available to kids all around the state,” Lee said.
Funding for education in Texas is nothing if not contentious. More than once school districts have filed suit (and won, only to have the ruling partially overturned by the Texas Supreme Court) against the state for an unconstitutional funding system that leaves programs under-resourced in the areas of greatest need, like bilingual education and pre-k.
That need is another focus of the report. The financial security of the state’s children depends on the security of their parents. When it comes to work and poverty, Texas has a curious data mashup.
“Texas is one of the few states in the country that has a better than average unemployment rate, but worse than average child poverty rate,” said Lee.
The population to work ratio tells us that this discrepancy is not caused by people simply choosing not to look for work, as in other parts of the country, Lee said. The culprit, according to the CPPP’s research, is low-wage jobs. Parents are working, sometimes multiple jobs, and still unable to provide everything a child needs. Getting the quantity of hours to make up for the low wages involves being away from their children even more, and exhausted when they are with them. Hardly the ideal recipe for the parent involvement that educators and policy makers agree is so vital to student success.
It also has huge ramifications for the student’s health.
Health decisions are made on a household level. The ability of that household to buy nutritious food and health insurance is largely determined by the earning power of the adults.
The policy “dares” brought forth by the CPPP all include increased public spending at a time when more tax cuts are on the table at the Capitol. Lee said that the most significant policy that voters should keep their eye on is the state budget. For example, cuts to the franchise tax and other corporate taxes will have direct effect on education funding.
“The reality is that you have to pay for these things,” said Lee.
The report contains more information further exposing the need for better policy to support children. It elucidates trends in population change and connects that to the changing needs of education, health care, and child safety systems. Between the sound bites and political speeches that dominate the news, we end up with huge gaps in our understanding of the organism of government and citizenship. The State of Texas Children and reports like it seek to connect those dots to show the true challenges facing our children.
*Featured/top image: Graphic from the Center for Public Policy Priorities’ 2015 State of Texas Children Report.