The State Of Texas’ Children: Low Graduation Rates, High Poverty

In an interview with Bloomberg’s Al Hunt, Education Secretary Arne Duncan had some harsh words for Texas’ education system, in a clear shot at the policies of new presidential contender Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX). “Far too few of their high school graduates are actually prepared to go on to college,” Duncan said. “I feel very, very badly for the children there.”

Duncan went on to criticize the budget implemented by the Texas legislature that will force tens of thousands of teachers to be laid off. In fact, “a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association said as many as 50,000 out of 333,000 teacher jobs could be eliminated in the next two years.” And already, a recent study placed Texas “dead last in the percent of the population age 25 and older that graduated from high school.”

But a deteriorating education system is far from the only problem facing Texas’ children. This week, the Casey Foundation released its annual Kids Count report, which ranked Texas 35th in the nation in terms of child well-being. Here are some low-lights:

Nearly one-quarter of Texas children live in poverty, placing it 41st in the nation.

Texas has the third-highest teen birth rate in the country, with 63 births per 1,000 females aged 15-19. Only Mississippi and New Mexico have higher rates.

Only nine states in the nation have a higher percentage of teens not attending school (or not high school graduates) than Texas’ 7 percent.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly half of Texas schoolchildren are eligible for reduced price or free school lunches. And as the Washington Post’s Harold Meyerson noted, “in 2008, the state comptroller found that 12 percent of Texans lacked high school diplomas and that the level would rise to 30 percent by 2040 unless the state’s commitment to education was considerably increased.”

Far from turning this around, Texas will be cutting child services over the next budget cycle. So it seems that, at least at the rate Texas has been going, Duncan has every reason to “feel very, very badly for the children there.”