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Study: Black, Latino children in Austin more likely to live in poverty

Black and Latino children in the Austin area are more likely to live in poverty, to attend low-income schools with fewer experienced teachers and to not have enough to eat, according to a new study.

The disparities in child outcomes persist across race, ethnicity and gender, according to the latest Center for Public Policy Priorities report, State of Texas Children 2016: Race and Equity in Austin. The left-leaning advocacy group will release its findings at 11:45 a.m. Wednesday during the Dare Texas Summit, a conference of health care and nonprofit organizations, child advocates and policy experts.

Among the report’s findings:

• Nearly 30 percent of Austin children live in high-poverty neighborhoods; 1 in 3 black children and 1 in 4 Latino children in Travis County live in poverty, while 5 percent of white children and 4 percent of Asian children do.

• About one-quarter of all children in Travis County lack consistent access to enough food for a healthy diet. Statewide, food insecurity affects more than 30 percent of black and Latino children.

• Black and Latino students in Travis County are most affected by teacher turnover and have a larger share of inexperienced teachers, with 61 percent of black children and 52 percent of Latino children attending schools with more than a 20 percent teacher turnover rate.

• Black and Latino students in Travis County also are more likely to be enrolled in high-poverty school districts and schools, following patterns of residential segregation.

The group points to historical and current policies that contributed to unequal opportunities among children in the Austin area. A recent American-Statesman analysis revealed that in more than half of the Austin district’s schools, black and Hispanic children make up 90 percent or more of the student body, and 50 schools have 90 percent or more students who are low-income. While Austin’s white students make up only a quarter of the district’s total, they are the majority in 30 of the district’s 116 traditional campuses, largely on the district’s more affluent western side, and in the district’s two most coveted magnet schools. The district in recent weeks has taken steps to address the disparities, approving a pilot plan to better integrate schools and changing admissions policies at the district’s top magnet schools to increase access for more students.

“Austin has not arrived here by accident,” Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement in response to the study. “Decisions by governments to segregate communities and discriminate against African Americans, Hispanics and other groups created inequities that continue in Austin to this day. To fix these inequities, we must face them without fear, and this report helps give us a good road map.”

The advocacy group called on community leaders and policymakers to examine data broken down by race and ethnicity, and to make changes that address disparities.

“The biggest takeaway from the report is in order to raise the bar for all kids, we have to think about race equity,” said Frances Deviney, associate director for the Center for Public Policy Priorities. “Until you break down data, you don’t know if a policy is helping all kids or just some.”

Such efforts have helped improve Austin-area graduation rates for all students and health coverage for Travis County children, Deviney said.

For example, overall graduation rates in Travis County have improved across all ethnicities from 2009 to 2014, hitting 87.9 percent. While black and Hispanic student graduation rates still lag behind white students, they made double-digit gains to the mid-80 percent range. Hispanic students had nearly a 20-percentage point gain in the five-year period to 84.6 percent.

In 2009, black children had the second-worst uninsured rates in Travis County, at 17 percent. After local policies and efforts aimed at helping urban families get coverage, as well as health insurance provided through the Affordable Care Act, by 2014 the rate plummeted to 4 percent, the lowest uninsured rate of the four ethnic groups studied, and comparable to the rate for white and Asian children, according to the report.

“Policies and choices and targeted efforts to make improvements work,” Deviney said. “We can do it. It’s not impossible.”

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