AUSTIN (KXAN) - Texas has the second-highest birth rate in the nation and more than 25 percent of those children live in poverty, according to the annual Kids Count survey released April 5.
The number of children in Texas rose by about 1 million between 2000 and 2010 and accounted for more than half of the U.S. child population growth. But 39 percent of Texas mothers received no, or very late, prenatal care and the percentage of babies born underweight jumped 13 percent during that same period, according to the Texas survey, conducted every year by the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities and funded by Methodist Healthcare Ministries and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The nonprofit and nonpartisan organizations advocate for solutions to poverty and health-care problems. The report pulls together state and federal demographic and public health data.
The Kids Count study also reported the number of children without health insurance dropped from 20.8 percent in 2006 to 16.9 percent in 2009, the latest year data was available. But that still means 1.2 million Texas children have no form of health insurance. More than 96 percent of Texas children are U.S. citizens.
The high school drop-out rate also decreased from 40 percent in 2001 to 27 percent in 2011, marking a major improvement in Texas. But the report noted the Texas Legislature cut funding for programs designed to reduce drop-outs last year, when lawmakers cut $27 billion in state services to balance the budget.
The report's authors said they hope the data will inform policymakers about how to spend taxpayer money.
"After a $5.3 billion dollar cut to education, a 66 percent cut to the Family Planning Program, and cuts to child abuse prevention, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program provider rates, and children with special health-care needs — to name a few — children were not our top priority," said Francis Deviney, the director of the survey. "It's time we learn from our past choices, positive and negative, so that we can shape a different story for our future."
Conservative Republicans, who hold every statewide office and control the Legislature, have said the government cannot solve these problems, and insist they maintained funding for key safety net programs. They argue economic growth in the private sector will lead to better jobs and less poverty.
The economic status of a child's family remained the leading indicator of health and education problems, the study said. Children from poor families were 53 percent more likely to be obese. Forty percent of children without health insurance were considered unhealthy, compared with 10 percent of those covered by private insurance. There also was a 12 percent gap in standardized test scores between poor children and those in middle- and upper-class families.
Black and Hispanic children in Texas are three times more likely to live in poverty than whites and Asians, the study found. This comes as the number of Hispanic children rose 39 percent, the number of blacks by 11 percent and the number of whites dropped 7 percent. The fastest growing population was Asians, up 66 percent.
"Our policy choices reflect our priorities and what we choose to invest in for the future," the report concluded. "After devastating cuts last legislative session, our future returns may be quite small."
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