The Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual Kids Count Data Book Wednesday and, once again, Texas ranked near the bottom in key indicators of child health and wellbeing.
Of the 6.6 million children in Texas, the foundation found that 24.3 percent live in poverty. Women receiving late or no prenatal care made up 40 percent of births and 13.5 percent of all live births were to teens ages 13-19. For the second consecutive year, Texas had the third highest teen birth rate in the nation.
The state also saw a 14 percent increase in the number of babies born at low birth weights and an 11 percent increase in the number of infant deaths since 2000.
Another startling statistic: Texas has had the largest percentage of uninsured children in the country for nine of the last 10 years. Nearly one out of four children – 23.3 percent – are uninsured.
Looking at all the indicators combined, Texas ranks ninth worst in the nation in terms of child poverty, according to Texas KIDS Count director Frances Deviney.
"There's been a steady climb in child poverty throughout the 2000s, but over the data from the last couple of years that we have, we've seen a real spike. Texas now has one of every four kids living in poverty," Deviney said.
"Poverty is really one of those bellwether indicators where we say if we don't really see a significant turnaround, we're going to have a whole generation of kids getting off on the wrong foot for the rest of their adult lives."
Sadly, reports like this are no surprise to educators. They see these children every day in their schools and are doing their best to meet students’ overwhelming needs. That monumentally difficult job will be even tougher this year with more than $5 billion in budget cuts to Texas public schools, including to programs that specifically target children in poverty, like full-day pre-kindergarten and Communities in Schools.
The Legislature also cut money to family planning services, so the state’s teen birth rate is likely to rise even higher, according to Deviney.
The report also found that 30 percent of Texas children live in families where no parent has year-round, full-time employment. Many are in homes where parents earn minimum wage or less and don't have access to private healthcare coverage.
With historic cuts to the state's education finance system, and no plan to restore funding come 2013, how can we build a skilled work force that will attract higher-paying jobs?
Hopefully our state leaders pay attention to reports like this and consider the ramifications of slashing aid to a system that is dealing with a massive number of increasingly needy kids. Those littlest and most vulnerable Texans need more of an investment, not less.