Our Kids Can’t Wait: Texas Ranks 43rd in Child Well-Being  

Texas has landed near the bottom of the list in the latest annual Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Book, ranking 43rd in the nation for child well-being. The report paints a concerning picture, with Texas children facing significant challenges in economic stability, education, health, and family and community contexts. 

The foundation’s report underscores the harsh reality that Texas children are struggling across multiple areas: 

  • The economic picture of Texas children is alarming. Approximately 19% of children live in poverty, 25% of children’s parents lack secure employment, 33% of children live in households with high housing costs, reflecting economic pressures that weigh heavily on families and impact educational outcomes.  
  • The state’s educational outcomes are also troubling, with 70% of fourth graders not proficient in reading and 74% of eighth graders falling behind in math.  
  • Health indicators don’t fare much better. Texas ranks 48th in overall child health, grappling with the highest rates of uninsured children compared to any other state and significant mental health challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. 
  • The state’s slight improvements in the family and community category, such as a decrease in children living in single-parent families, still leave Texas at 47th in this area, emphasizing the need for stronger community support systems to foster an environment where kids can thrive. 

Nationally, the report highlights persistent disparities affecting children of color, those from immigrant families, and those in low-income households. In Texas, these disparities are pronounced, with Black, Latino, and Native children experiencing some of the worst outcomes. For instance, only 16% of Black children in the U.S. are proficient in reading by fourth grade, compared to the national average of 32%. 

Addressing these challenges requires comprehensive and multifaceted approaches. The Texas AFT’s Thrive Together report emphasizes the vital solution of funding and investing in community schools. Community schools provide a holistic approach to education, combining academic support with health and social services. This model can address students’ academic and non-academic needs, offering mental health services, tutoring, nutritional support, and more. When we view these issues holistically, we can begin to see the full picture of why Texas ranks 43rd in failing our children.  

We need increased funding for our schools: Investing in community schools can provide essential wraparound services that address both academic and non-academic needs of students. These schools serve as hubs for mental health services, tutoring, nutritional support, and other essential resources. The solution is not educational choice, or unpopular policy agendas such as a school voucher system, we need to invest where our children are already learning.  

We need targeted educational interventions: The foundation calls for implementing high-dosage, in-person tutoring programs aligned with school curricula that can help students catch up. States like Louisiana and Tennessee have successfully launched such programs with federal pandemic relief funds, and Texas can follow suit. 

We need enhanced health services in schools: Utilizing Medicaid funding to provide physical and mental health services within schools can ensure children receive the care they need without the cost barrier. This approach also helps address chronic absenteeism caused by health issues. In Texas, our lack of focus on mental health is reflected in bandaid solutions to addressing the need for real support.  

Texas’s low ranking in child well-being serves as a call to action for policymakers, educators, and community leaders. By focusing on comprehensive, common-sense solutions that tackle the root causes of these issues, Texas can improve the lives of its children and secure a brighter future. With the right policies and commitment, Texas has the potential to move up the ranks and offer a better future for its youngest residents. 

We need to do better for our children and for our future. With the next legislative session upcoming in 2025, it is time we focus on uplifting Texas children out of the bottom ranks and into a more promising future.