Superheroes are known for their special powers. As a young girl growing up in Dallas, I was dazzled by Wonder Woman as she wielded her bracelets and Lasso of Truth to fight evil and protect democracy.
As an adult, I am continually inspired by Texas parents who exhibit real superpowers every day: protecting their kids from harm, flying to their side when they are hurt or scared, and summoning heroic powers to make sure their kids grow up healthy and strong.
But if all it took was the superhero dedication of Texas parents, Texas wouldn’t be consistently ranked as one of the nation’s worst states for children. The latest Texas Kids Count report, “2015 State of Texas Children,” reveals several areas where Texas kids are struggling, as well as opportunities for enacting smart public policies to improve kids’ outcomes and maximize their opportunities.
Despite a relatively low and improving unemployment rate, 1 in 4 Texas children lives in poverty — a higher rate than in 2009. Low-income Texas kids start school at a disadvantage in verbal skills, are less likely to pass standardized tests, more likely to be held back in school and more likely to drop out.
We also know that nearly 2 million kids live in food-insecure households, where access to nutritious food is limited and uncertain. And nearly 1 in 8 children is uninsured, the second highest rate in the nation. This is driven in part by the fact that kids are more likely to be uninsured when their parents are uninsured, and Texas continues to have the highest rate of uninsured adults in the nation.
With 1 out of 11 U.S. children currently living in Texas, how we protect and prepare our children will determine not only the future of our state but the future of our country.
The good news is that common-sense policy solutions have already demonstrated a superhero impact on kids’ lives. For example, together the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Texas Medicaid provide nearly 3.5 million children with access to medical coverage and preventative care they might not otherwise receive. And the state has made some smart moves to improve our kids’ nutrition, with the passage of universal school breakfast and implementation of the Community Eligibility Provision across nearly 1,500 Texas schools, which makes getting free lunches for low-income kids easier and more cost effective for the state.
What next? We must continue to dare our public officials to make smart investments in the next generation.
With the governor and other leaders prioritizing early education, we have an unprecedented opportunity to expand access to quality, full-day pre-kindergarten. Other lawmakers have introduced proposals that would offer more support for families who step in to take care of relatives who can no longer live with their parents. And our elected leaders must find a Texas solution to close the health insurance gap that still leaves far too many families without the health insurance that they need.
It’s time for all of us to stand up and be superheroes for all Texas kids. Call or visit your representative and ask them to support investments in Texas kids. Let’s join forces, focus our collective superpowers, and dare Texas to be the best state for children and families.
A version of this post was published in the Austin American-Statesman on March 3, 2015.