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Analysis: Take or Leave the Advice on Texas Kids, but Heed the Numbers

The younger part of the state’s population doesn’t look like the older part, and a new report suggests we should have a look at that before we make a big mess.

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The younger part of the state’s population doesn’t look like the older part, and a new report suggests we should have a look at that before we make a big mess.

It’s a liberal point of view, as you might expect from the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities, but much of the group’s State of Texas Children 2016 report is a rundown of demographic changes. The recommendations they make, you can argue over; the facts, not so much.

As for the facts, it’s not that these are new trends and numbers, but Texas — not necessarily the government — will have to deal with this now, or soon.

For instance, of the more than 7 million children in Texas:

• One in four lives in poverty, including 33 percent of Latinos, 32 percent of African-Americans, 11 percent of Anglos and 12 percent of Asians.

• 19 percent live in high-poverty neighborhoods, and that number is growing.

• One-third live with one or more parents who immigrated to the United States. That said, 96 percent of all Texas kids are U.S. citizens.

• 11 percent of those kids are uninsured, which is an improvement but still ranks Texas among the worst states in that regard.

• High school completion rates are also improving but remain lower for African-American (84 percent) and Hispanic (86 percent) students. Asian students (95 percent) had the highest high school completion rate, followed by Anglo students (93 percent).

• The population of Texas public schools is diverse: 52 percent Hispanic, 29 percent Anglo, 13 percent African-American  and 6 percent Asian.

The report’s recommendations are built around equitable outcomes for all Texas children, according to report author Jennifer Lee. “We always talk about improving child well-being and looking at gaps based on how lower-income kids are doing.”

It’s one thing to want all kids to be healthy, for instance, and another thing to see to it. “Equity matters,” she said. “By equity, I mean we need to be really serious about looking at every kid in Texas and being willing to commit the resources and change our practices to adapt [to] that.”

When the needle on the tachometer in your car moves into the red zone, you need to shift gears or take your foot off the gas. You’re straining the engine — asking it to do more than it is designed to do — and probably on your way to ruining the vehicle.

Lots of the state’s most critical programs run in their red zones, out past the recommended loads when you look at ratios like police officers to population, prison guards to inmates, welfare case workers to children served, oil and gas inspectors to well sites, and so on through the state budget.

This particular coin has two sides. The state is trying, at least, to take care of some of the problems voters have asked it to take care of. And in some cases, it does a pretty good job of it. On the other hand, running the government is often a matter of zipping from one problem to another, patching holes and explaining to an exasperated public why things don’t work better.

Child Protective Services is a recent example. It’s also a repeater — an agency in trouble that has periodically been in trouble for as long as anyone can remember.

The former caseworker in Grand Prairie who was supposed to have his eye on a 4-year-old girl who was beaten to death this year had 70 cases on his desk. That is no excuse for what happened. But it means that part of his job was to decide which of the cases on his desk could safely be ignored because there is no way one person could carry that load and also do a reasonably good job.

So now there’s a report on the standing of children in Texas, a statistical look at how they’re doing and a guide to what the state might do.

It isn’t the Bible or anything — there are things in the State of Texas Children report that you might consider bad policy. But it’s one look at what state policymakers and budget writers are confronting as they set out to once again take the state of Texas out for a spin.

Even if you ignore the recommendations, consider the facts. Every time the state hits a policy crisis, somebody says, “Why didn’t they tell us this was a problem?”

Almost every time, somebody did.

Disclosure: The Center for Public Policy Priorities is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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