Other Voices

New Texas report spotlights racial gaps in child well-being

The Fort Worth school district has committed to provide free all-day pre-kindergarten classes.
The Fort Worth school district has committed to provide free all-day pre-kindergarten classes. Star-Telegram

Those of us who work in education know that poverty is one of the greatest challenges Texas kids of all races face. One in 4 Texas children lives in poverty.

This year’s annual State of Texas Children report from the Center for Public Policy Priorities looks deeper into the data, exploring racial and ethnic gaps in the health, education and financial security of Texas children.

The authors provide recommendations for smart policy choices that can help raise the bar and close gaps in well-being for all kids.

Policymakers can use this report to become more informed about the conditions from which children arrive at school and identify how programs and services could better target the needs presented by each student.

When we look at child poverty through the lens of race and ethnicity, and particularly how each of these interacts with location, we can see that race and place have a pervasive impact on our children.

In Tarrant County, the poverty rate of black and Hispanic children is nearly three times that of Anglo children.

As affluent suburbs have proliferated “outside of the loop,” aging inner-city neighborhoods with abandoned infrastructure have become areas where poverty is concentrated. These are areas where black and Latino children are more likely to live.

Here lie the biggest opportunities to address acute deficits so our children have equitable access to services, thus lessening the classic “opportunity gap.”

As we consider the gaps in food security, access to healthcare, educational attainment and economic security for children of color, we also must remember that policies truly matter.

Historical policies created very real barriers for families, and these are perpetuated by many of our current policies.

We must use the knowledge gained from assessing these profound and unacceptable trends of decline.

One important finding is that many of these damaging trends are accelerated because of the “urban nomad” phenomenon, where many families move every three to four months because of financial and housing instability.

These nomadic children alter the schools they attend, producing exceptionally high “mobility rates” of 35 percent and higher in Fort Worth schools.

This has real effects on our children, who forfeit four to six months of gained knowledge with each move. It results in over-age and under-credited student designations in school.

Too many children in Texas today continue to face tremendous barriers to opportunity because of their ZIP code — an uncomfortable truth we must face in order to create the best Texas for all children.

Still, informed public policies can make Texas kids healthier, better educated and more financially secure, regardless of their gender, address, income, race or ethnicity.

Consistently, Fort Worth children arrive in kindergarten only 50 percent prepared, even though 80 percent have been enrolled in some form of pre-K.

For the coming school year, FWISD has invested in full day pre-K, even though the reimbursement from the state is only 50 cents on the dollar. This upfront investment will improve our students’ opportunities to start school on equitable footing and enjoy success.

There are countless other opportunities for Texas lawmakers to improve the lives of our kids, from creating high-opportunity neighborhoods where all children have a chance to grow and thrive, to considering the potential racial impact of all policy proposals.

It’s not always easy to think about the role race should play in the creation of sound public policy. But with thoughtful approaches, Fort Worth and Tarrant County can pave the way for sustainable economic growth and prosperity.

By improving the lives of all of our children, Texas can capitalize on its greatest strengths: an enterprising spirit, capacity for growth and — perhaps most important — vibrant diversity.

Tobi Jackson, a trustee on the Fort Worth school board, is executive director of Fort Worth SPARC, which advocates for exceptional after-school programs for youth.