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Texas needs to invest in giving minority kids more opportunities

In an ever-growing world economy, having a village to help raise a child has never been more crucial. For Texas, that means ensuring all children have access to opportunities for a better future.

A recent Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count policy report on the racial and ethnic divide among children in education, health and economic security showed that African-American, Latino, Native American and some groups of Asian-American children face profound barriers to success, nationally and in Texas.

Using an indexed scale of one to 1,000 (from worst to best), the report showed that in Texas, Latino children, who scored 376, and African-American children, with a score of 386, are faring distressingly worse than other children, a pattern that holds true in nearly every state. Asian and Pacific Islander children in Texas have the highest index score at 824, followed by white children at 710 and Native American children at 631.

Children of color already represent the majority of our nearly 7 million Texas kids, with more than 3 million Hispanic and 809,000 African-American children.

If our state intends to make the most of our best potential asset — a young and growing population — the needs of children of color have to become a priority.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities echoes what leading demographers have said for years: Texas must create better opportunities for education and jobs for all children, but particularly children of color, who tend to be from lower income families.

“If we do not, we risk becoming a poorer, less competitive state with a less well-educated workforce,” center leaders have said. We agree.

Texas has a lot at stake.

The statistics for minorities are bleak. If we don’t go to bat for our children of color, we will have a large, young population with little means to participate positively in our society and who will represent a drain to our economy.

The Center for American Progress shows that while people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in his lifetime.

In recent weeks we’ve heard a lot of debate about keeping 17-year-olds who have committed offenses in the juvenile system instead of processing them as adults. This is a position we support, and these talks should go hand-in-hand with finding opportunities to keep children out of jails, period.

Among the policy recommendations made by Kids Count to help ensure that all children and their families are on a path to opportunity is to gather and analyze racial and ethnic data to give leaders and policymakers a clear picture. The report also recommends that leaders develop and implement successful programs and practices that focus on improving the lives of children and youth of color.

“We need to make sure that we have access to valid and rich data on children’s outcomes by racial, ethnic breakdown,” said Texas Kids Count Director Frances Deviney. “Without it, we are blind to where to focus our efforts and get the best outcomes for our investments.”

Such efforts are as basic as access to pre-K curriculum and support systems like Communities in Schools, a dropout prevention program that provides school-based social services in Austin schools.

Defending the state’s $200 million in cuts to its Pre-K Early Start grants program in Texas is not the way to go. But we welcome lawmakers’ efforts to expand and enhance early childhood programs.

But first, leaders have to acknowledge that many Texas children live in poverty and attend underfunded schools. Many more face family violence, substance abuse and mental health issues. These are all factors that make getting a leg up on the future that much more difficult.

Texas should, as the report suggests, use this information and other research to target its money to strategies that will benefit vulnerable groups the most, connecting them to jobs and other workforce opportunities.

Turning our backs on children of color means we turn our backs on a bright future for Texas. The numbers don’t lie. Soon children of color will be the majority of this state. We need to help them be productive citizens with opened doors of opportunity.

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