2024 Kids Count National Data Book: Texas Still Fails Its Children

In 2022, a staggering three-quarters of Texas eighth graders scored below proficient in math, reflecting a 9-percentage point increase from 2019. This alarming trend highlights a significant decline in math proficiency among middle school students over a relatively short period. Concurrently, the percentage of Texas fourth graders reading below proficiency remains stubbornly high at 70%. This stagnation indicates a persistent challenge in improving early literacy skills, which are critical for future academic success. The Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) finds that unprecedented drops across the country in fourth grade reading and eighth grade math proficiency between 2019 and 2022 amount to decades of lost progress, though it’s clear the COVID-19 pandemic played a role in these losses. This year, AECF highlights two important factors preventing children from higher achievement: chronic absence and adverse childhood experiences. The combination of learning losses and the impact of these contributing factors will require immediate action from Texas policymakers to make investments in our future — because all children deserve a fair opportunity to reach their academic potential.  

Learning Loss Will Negatively Impact the Texas Economy 

At the national level, U.S. reading and math scores have remained stagnant for decades. According to the Texas Workforce Commission, high-demand, high-wage occupations generally require either a bachelor’s degree and technical skill training or some form of postsecondary education, technical skill training, and additional on-the-job training. Texas is projected to add 1.7 million new jobs between 2018 and 2028. Of these, 40.7% will require some form of postsecondary education and training. Failure to adequately prepare today’s children for the career requirements of tomorrow will have dire consequences on the mid-21st century Texas economy.  

Early education is key in preparing children for academic success, but 58% of young children (ages 3 and 4) in Texas are not in school. This rate of enrollment has remained the same since 2017. Worsening proficiency levels for eighth graders in math are also cause for concern; in 2022, 76% of eighth graders were not proficient in math compared to 70% in 2019. In addition to the standard measures of education, this year the AECF included measures of chronic absenteeism. Research shows that students who are chronically absent, meaning they miss 10% or more of the school year regardless of reason, have significantly-hindered academic progress. Consequences of chronic absenteeism include facing challenges in learning to read by third grade, difficulty achieving in middle school, and ultimately a harder time graduating from high school. 

1.5 million Texas students (28%) were chronically absent in the 2021-2022 school year. Broken down by race and ethnicity, the highest rates of chronic absenteeism among Texas students were among Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander students (36%) and Black students (34%). Latino students had the third highest rate of chronic absenteeism at 31% (892,000 students) compared to White students with a rate of 21% (296,000 students). High levels of chronic absenteeism, particularly among marginalized communities, highlight systemic disparities that need to be addressed to secure a prosperous future for Texas. It is imperative that our state leaders invest in comprehensive educational reform to ensure all children are adequately prepared for the demands of tomorrow’s workforce.  

Adverse Childhood Experiences Weigh Down Texas Children 

The National Survey of Children’s Health tracks Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) at the national and state levels. Adverse childhood experiences include: 

  • Family economic hardship; 
  • A child’s parents having divorced, separated, served time in jail or died;
  • Witnessing domestic violence; 
  • Experiencing neighborhood violence; 
  • Living with someone with a mental illness or substance use problem; and 
  • Being treated unfairly due to race or ethnicity.  

ACEs have a profound impact on childhood and adult health, particularly as it relates to school engagement and educational outcomes. One study, analyzing data from the National Survey of Children’s Health, found that various ACEs have a critical influence on school engagement. For example, the parental incarceration is a significant predictor of grade repetition, while economic hardship greatly affects the completion of homework and the desire to succeed in school. A comprehensive approach that includes economic support and early-childhood education is essential to mitigate the negative impacts of ACEs and foster better educational prospects for children. 

At the national level, roughly 2-in-5 children (40%) had undergone an adverse childhood experience from 2021 to 2022. At 42%, the Texas data is higher than the national average. Moreover, when you disaggregate the data on ACEs by race and ethnicity for Texas, we learn that Black children in Texas experience one or more adverse childhood experiences at more than 10 times the national rate (41.2% and 29.1%, respectively). Similarly, Latino children in Texas experience adverse childhood experiences at a higher rate than the national average (20% to 19.3%).   

This disparity highlights the urgent need for targeted interventions and support systems to address and mitigate the impact of adverse childhood experiences on all children, but especially children of color in Texas. The data underscores the importance of developing community-specific strategies that consider the unique challenges faced by different racial and ethnic groups. By focusing on comprehensive policies and resources that support families and children, Texas can work toward reducing the prevalence of ACEs and fostering a healthier, more equitable environment for all its children. 

Additional Findings for Texas Kids from AECF Kids Count 

Other findings from the 2024 AECF report indicate that all indicators of economic well-being for children have not improved, and one has worsened. Specifically, the percentage of children living in households with a high housing cost burden increased to 33% in 2022 from 30% in 2019, giving Texas a 41st place rank in the economic well-being section of the report. While the family and community context saw improvements across its four different indicators, the state of Texas ranks 47th, making it one of the worse states for children in terms of family and community. In 2022, 8% of children in the U.S. lived in high-poverty areas, whereas in Texas this number rose to 12%, indicating a significantly higher proportion of children living in high-poverty regions in Texas. In terms of teen births, Texas has a rate of 20 births per 1,000, which is higher than the national rate of 14 per 1,000. More children in Texas live in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma (16%) than families at the national level (11%).  

The Path Forward Involves All of Us 

To secure a prosperous future for all Texans, it is imperative that policymakers and stakeholders invest in early education, address chronic absenteeism, and mitigate the impacts of adverse childhood experiences, especially for children of color. Much is at stake in Texas; the economic implications of failing to educate today’s children for the demands of tomorrow’s workforce are dire. 

Addressing these challenges requires a multi-faceted approach to include economic support, early childhood education, and community-specific strategies that consider the unique needs of different racial and ethnic groups. By focusing on comprehensive policies and resources that support families and children, Texas can work to reduce educational disparities and foster a healthier, more equitable environment for all. 

The way forward involves collective action and investment in the future of Texas, ensuring that every child has a fair opportunity to reach their academic potential and contribute to the state’s economic growth and social well-being. To access the full Annie E. Casey 2024 Kids Count Book, visit this link. To access a Spanish version of the state profile, visit this link. You can also access our Texas Kids Count webpage to learn more about the current state of children in Texas, access sociodemographic data about Texas children, and read through our 2022 policy recommendations for progress in children’s overall well-being.

Connect with Us
Policy Areas

Stay Connected