Dear Governor Abbott:
Congratulations on your inauguration as the governor of our great state. As a fellow Texan, parent, and attorney, I know we agree that Texas should be the number one state in America for children.
But according to the Census and other trusted data sources, Texas is consistently ranked one of the nation’s worst states for children. Despite the resources and wealth we have in Texas, 1 in 4 Texas children live in poverty. In fact, the 2014 national KIDS COUNT Data Book ranked Texas one of the bottom 10 states in which to be a child. With parental unemployment rates at a low 6 percent, we know that Texans are working hard but are still unable to climb out of poverty and support their children.
As governor, you can make it a priority to turn around these statistics so Texas tops the list of best states for kids. With 1 out of 11 U.S. children currently living in Texas, the way we treat our children will determine not just the future of our state, but the future of our country. We can make no smarter investment than helping Texas children thrive.
You have wisely called for expanding access to quality pre-Kindergarten, because the best time to help Texas children is early in their lives. Only 52 percent of Texas 4-year-olds attend public pre-K despite data showing that participation in quality pre-K programs is associated with improved reading and math scores. Cost-effective investments in early education will guarantee a more competitive workforce and a more engaged society in the future.
As Attorney General, you worked hard to protect children from danger in our communities and online. When parents cannot care for Texas kids, we can agree that the next best caregivers are likely to be relatives. As governor, I ask you to support guidelines that would help more grandparents and other kin care for Texas children. Let’s keep families together and save taxpayers the high cost of foster care.
To expand opportunity in Texas, children and families must learn how to save for college. Financial education should begin early, and research shows that it’s even more effective when paired with children’s savings accounts (CSA’s). I hope you will support guidelines that make it easier for school districts to adopt CSA’s and for families to save.
We know that enacting common sense policy solutions can improve kids’ lives, because we’ve done it before. Success stories include the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Together CHIP and Texas Medicaid now provide nearly 3.5 million children with medical coverage, which is helping Texas kids stay healthy and shielding taxpayers from unnecessary emergency room bills.
As you said in your inaugural speech, “[…] we know too many still live on the fringe of opportunity. For them there is no solace in number one rankings that fail to touch their lives. I speak about children living in broken homes and struggling in broken schools. On this point we cannot be captive to partisan arguments. Our children transcend politics. If Texas is to remain the leader at creating jobs we must become the leader at educating our children.”
Now that the campaign is over and the real work of governing has begun, it’s time to focus on what all Texans believe in. Let’s work together to make Texas the best place for children and families.