While Texas children are getting better access to health care and showing improved education outcomes, they still lag behind the majority of the nation’s kids, especially in measures of poverty, according to a new report released Monday.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation‘s 2019 Kids Count Data Book, a state-by-state effort to track the status of children in the United States, ranks Texas 41st in overall child well-being based on measures of health, education, and economic well-being. That’s up from 43rd in 2018.
The report showed a slight decline in the number of children living in poverty from 22 percent in 2018 to 21 percent, which remains above the national average of 18 percent. The top-performing state, New Hampshire, has only 10 percent of its children living in poverty.
More than 81,000 children in Texas (11 percent) are uninsured, up from 9 percent in 2018. The national average for uninsured children in 2019 is 5 percent.
The data for Texas is compiled by Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities, a progressive nonprofit that analyzes state-level socioeconomic data with the goal of educating lawmakers as they navigate funding decisions during legislative sessions. A 2018 report by CPPP found that 108,000 Bexar County kids live in poverty
CPPP Associate Director Frances Deviney said that while Texas has made significant improvements in measures affecting child well-being over the last 10 years, it has ranked in the bottom 10 states for more than a decade, alongside its southern border neighbors, including Arizona, New Mexico, and Louisiana.
Deviney said the information gathered in the annual Kids Count Data Book helps to highlight which states have better policies in place to achieve a better ranking on a given measure, which can then be replicated or adapted by poor-performing states to improve their score.
“Most policy decisions that affect kids directly do not come from the federal government, they happen at the state legislative level,” Deviney said.
In the latest report, Texas ranks 30th in the nation for education, which includes reading and math proficiency, the number of young children in school, and the number of high school students graduating on time. It ranks 47th for the family and community measure, which includes teen birth rates, the number of children in single-parent families, and children living in high poverty areas, the same ranking as 2018.
Deviney said that the recent reforms made to the school finance system in the recent legislative session can help Texas improve its current ranking.
State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), vice chair of the House Public Education Committee, told the Rivard Report that the legislature’s comprehensive $9 billion school finance and property tax reform bill includes a $25 million increase for early childhood intervention services, and raised the base funding per student by nearly 20 percent (from $5,140 to $6,160).
“There are features in this school finance bill that are more thoughtful than years past,” Bernal said. “We are trying to funnel resources – and by extension opportunity – to students who need them. It’s supposed to be the marriage of need and appropriate response for those experiencing generations of poverty” by also addressing poverty in the school’s surrounding neighborhoods.
“We aren’t in the bottom on every measure, but the report is in its 30th year and collectively on every measure we have been in the bottom 10 for some time now,” Deviney said. “It’s not that we are putting out resources in the wrong places, it’s that we don’t have enough resources targeted to helping support good, solid communities.”
When the report was first published in 1990, Texas ranked 43rd in overall child well-being.
Because the report is a state-by-state comparison, Deviney said that when states move up or down in rankings only slightly, it likely means little progress is being made. “It is unusual to have really big changes in a ranking from year to year unless you have dramatic, all-encompassing policy changes,” like in 2001 when when the federally funded Children’s Health Insurance Program expanded nationally and enrollment increased.
Deviney said that in addition to strides made in school finance and property tax rates, more needs to go toward community-based initiatives including “supporting good zoning so that there are grocery stores in areas that need them.”
“When you look at the budget, Texas is not necessarily putting its resources or money in the wrong places, but its that it need to also put more resources toward helping families get ahead, which improves overall health outcomes,” Deviney said.