The Kids Count Data Book is an annual publication produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and it evaluates the overall health and well-being of children. Using 16 indicators in the four key areas of Economic Well-Being, Education, Health, and Family and Community, the report determines how children are faring across the country. The data is reported at the national level, and then broken down to the state level where each state is given a rank to show how well their children are doing. This year, Texas did not improve on its rank, rather, we declined.
This year Texas is ranked 43rd, down one position from last year’s ranking of 42nd. Last year Texas ranked higher in the areas of Economic Well-Being, Education, and Health, but we did rank better this year in the area of Family and Community, although even with this improvement, Texas is still in the bottom for this area, ranking 47th overall. While we rank lower this year in education, we did improve in many of the indicators, which is a bright spot in this report.
There were other bright spots for Texas as well; when comparing the data to past reports, there are more indicators where Texas improved, particularly those indicators used to determine the education rank. For instance, there was an improvement in the percentage of high schools students graduating on time as well as an improvement in the percentage of eighth graders who are proficient in math. This report also shows there were fewer teen births and fewer children without health insurance compared to past reports, but unfortunately, both of these indicators still lag behind the national average.
While there were a few indicators that improved over the last year, there were still many that either stayed the same or worsened. One area that is particularly concerning is the percentage of children living in poverty; both the national and Texas numbers have worsened when compared to past reports. More than 1.7 million or 26% of Texas children live in poverty. Looking at the country as a whole, more than 16.3 million or 23%, of children live in poverty. For comparison in 2005, 25% of Texas children lived in poverty, while the national percentage was 19%. Research shows childhood poverty can lead to poor outcomes in both education and health, so addressing this one indicator could lead to change in many of the other indicators found in this report.
While there was an improvement on the education indicators, there was also one indicator in education that worsened, fourth graders not proficient in reading increased to 72%, which is higher than the national average of 66%. The country as a whole, improved on this indicator, but Texas did not.
There are many ways we can improve the well-being of Texas children, and hopefully this report can begin that discussion for parents, advocates, and legislators. Texas has 7 million children, which is more than the overall population of many states across the country, so we have a big responsibility, and the impact of improving the well-being of Texas children can be felt at the national level as well. Children are our future, and their well-being should be a top priority. For more information on this report, visit www.ForaBetterTexas.org/NationalKidsCount