Texas is home to 10% of all children under 18 living in the United States. The nearly 7.5 million children living in Texas reflect the nation’s growing diversity. The number of children in Texas is projected to increase to over 8.5 million by 2060. If the saying, “demographics are destiny,” holds true, then it’s time for the Texas Legislature to make meaningful investments in our future. The trajectories of our children now should inform the state’s policy priorities. The most important message the Texas Legislature can send to the millions of children charting the path of our state is that they are all seen and heard. The message must come in the form of investments in children’s health, education, and well-being.
Every year, Every Texan publishes a report on the status of children in Texas to measure how well they are doing across a variety of well-being and health measures, such as economic, health and safety, and educational well-being. This year’s report marks an important turning point because it reflects the increasing challenges that Texas children are facing as a consequence of not only the COVID-19 pandemic but the systemic inequities that have caught up with population health and social outcomes. Texas children need us now more than ever. At a bare minimum, policymakers must acknowledge and invest in policies to help close gaps across the outcomes.
In education, Texas still lags behind, with an overall 33rd-place ranking, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. One of the factors Annie E. Casey takes into consideration when calculating rank is 3 and 4-year-old enrollment in early childhood education. In Texas, 84% of children in public Pre-K are economically disadvantaged, and over a third (35%) of children in public Pre-K are emergent bilingual or English learners. Funding for full-day Pre-k is imperative and the state must prioritize this need. Additionally, the percentage of economically disadvantaged third-grade students who did not meet third-grade reading standards was over twice that of economically advantaged students (30% compared to 12%). This difference is staggering and should signal the need for policymakers to invest in the educational needs of all Texas children.
For children to succeed in school, they must have all their basic needs met. In Texas, nearly 1.4 million children in Texas are food insecure, or 19% of all Texas kids (compared to 16% of children nationwide). Food insecurity impacts not only children’s health but also educational outcomes. Policymakers must increase the reach of existing food and nutrition programs throughout the state to ensure that all children can perform their best at school, in addition to increasing their overall health and well-being.
The 2022 Texas Kids Count Data Book also provides data on safe communities and schools, which delve into the mental health outcomes of middle to high school youth in Texas. This year, Every Texan was proud to include important data on the connection between the environment and health. For the first time, we included data on childhood asthma hospitalization rates, which are an important indicator of the environmental impacts on health and are highest amongst Black children in Texas.
The data trends documented in the book are troubling. We urge Texas lawmakers to carefully consider how the data observations and trends presented are linked to a goal we can all agree on — that every child, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, zip code, or nationality, deserves to live a healthy life, access opportunities equitably, and reach their full potential.
The Data Book, available to the public on March 24, 2023, also includes policy recommendations for each of the health and well-being categories. Our annual Texas Kids Count Summit will be held in San Antonio, Texas at the San Antonio Food Bank. Registration is free and you can secure your spot here.