Stats: Life getting worse for kids in Texas

February 3, 2011 11:57:25 PM PST
Teen pregnancies and the number of kids living in poverty in Texas are rising as lawmakers cut spending on programs for children, according to the State of Texas Children 2011 report. The annual study says the number of children in Texas has risen 11 percent since 2000, but the number living in poverty is up 17 percent; almost one quarter of all the children in the state. The Center for Public Policy Priorities drafts the report by compiling data from state and federal agencies. The non-partisan group advocates for children and the poor.

The number of pregnancies among unmarried teens rose 7 percent to more than 44,000, the study said. Infant mortality rate is also up 10 percent since 2000.

The deteriorating statistics come as Texas faces a major budget shortfall. Revenues are down $15 billion from the last two-year budget cycle and the state is short $27 billion if lawmakers wanted to maintain the current level of services. Conservative lawmakers who control both chambers of the Legislature have promised not to raise taxes, or to tap the state's $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund.

The first draft of the new budget would cut state spending for children by $10 billion or 13 percent from the current level. There is no accommodation in the budget for the growing number of Texas school children.

"It's raining in Texas," said Frances Deviney, the director of Texas KIDS COUNT, which helped produce the report. "Over-packed classrooms, fewer children with access to doctors, and a host of other local reductions will be the state's legacy as it defaults on its promises to Texas children and families."

Gov. Rick Perry has repeatedly insisted Texas government must operate within available revenues and that all state agencies must share in budget cuts. While raising taxes would be virtually impossible in the current political climate, some lawmakers are floating the possibility of tapping the Rainy Day Fund to help offset increased demand for public education and Medicaid.

The report found premature births in Texas were up 34 percent and the number of children receiving food stamps was up 116 percent since 2000.

Deviney said the study found a correlation between per-pupil spending and school performance. Texas ranks 47th in the country for per-pupil spending in public schools and ranks below average in drop-out rate and 4th-grade reading scores.

The report predicts continued cuts to state spending for child health and education programs will hurt both Texas children and the economy.

"These predictions will come true if we simply stay on our current course -- not to mention what happens if we choose to make life harder for Texas children and families through draconian cuts," Deviney said.

The center recommends what it calls a balanced approach to overcoming the current budget shortfall, by using the Rainy Day Fund, raising some taxes and cutting spending in select areas.

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