Texas kids are still suffering. They still lag behind children in other states when it comes to economic well-being, education, health and measures of family and community support, according to the 2019 Kids Count data book from Annie E. Casey Foundation. Despite limited help from the Texas Legislature in the most recent session, things threaten to get even worse for children in the state, too, thanks to the upcoming 2020 census.
There are a lot of kids in Texas — nearly 7.4 million. That's 2.5 million more than were in the state when the Casey Foundation started counting, about 25% of the total national increase in kids over the last 30 years.
When the 1990 edition of Kids Count came out, Texas ranked 43rd in the country, according to the reports metrics. This year, the state ranks 41st.
Look at the statistics, and it's easy to see why. Eleven percent of Texas kids don't have health insurance, the highest rate in the nation. Fifty-seven percent of 3- and 4-year-olds aren't enrolled in Pre-K, 71% of fourth graders aren't proficient in reading and 67% of eighth graders aren't up to par in math.
Finally, this year, the Legislature did something to address those education outcomes, passing significant reforms to Texas' long broken school-finance system. But lawmakers failed to take the easy, significant step of accepting federal money to expand Medicaid, which would drastically cut the number of Texans without health insurance.
“The data show us that Texas children face dire challenges, many of which have been created or made worse by our past policy choices," Ann Beeson, CEO of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said after the report's release. "The good news is that common-sense policy solutions could make conditions better for every Texas child. We just have to have the political will."
That's where voters, and the census, come in. Despite the fact that any money the state put into Medicaid after an expansion would be matched 9-to-1 by federal funds, Texas Republicans led by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have fought against the insurance program.
After receiving a federal waiver allowing the state to continue receiving funds to support managed care programs without signing up for the expansion in 2017, Abbott celebrated.
“I committed to the people of Texas that we would focus on preserving access to care without expanding a broken Medicaid system under Obamacare,” Abbott said in December.
Patrick, who controls the state Senate's agenda as lieutenant governor, has said that the idea of Medicaid expansion "is not even worth discussing."
In addition to their intransigence with regard to potential additional federal help, Texas Republicans also failed to allocate money during the 2019 session to ensure that the state has an accurate census count. Any potential under-count in Texas will cost Texas millions in federal funds.
For every 1% of the population that Texas is potentially under-counted, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, the state could lose $291 million in federal funding that would otherwise go to programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start preschool and the Children's Health Insurance Program, as well as things like highways and parks.
"If we don't have everybody counted, we're going to have to pay more to serve the same number of people," Eva DeLuna Castro, a budget analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, told the Observer last March. "The formulas (for different federal programs) assume that a certain population size brings you a certain amount of money. ... Texas already has an under-count — we don't know how big it is. To make that even worse, it's just more and more money that we have to come up with here instead of getting federal help to pay for it."
According to the Kids Count report, the 2010 census missed more than 2 million kids younger than 5 nationwide. The potential that the 2020 census could ask whether participants are citizens put Texas in an especially precarious position.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.