Fort Worth leaders work to fight child poverty, disparity gaps

Fort Worth leaders work to fight child poverty, disparity gaps

by Diane Smith, Star-Telegram

 

  • FORT WORTH

 

The numbers are an urgent call to action.

One-third of Hispanic and black children live in poverty in Tarrant County, according to a state report released Wednesday.

The State of Texas Children: Race and Equity in Fort Worth also says that 26 percent of children in Fort Worth live in high-poverty neighborhoods, up 9 percentage points in five years. In Arlington, the rate has increased from 12 percent to 19 percent.

“Although the share of the Fort Worth children living in high-poverty neighborhoods is still lower than cities like Dallas, Houston and Austin, the rates of children living in poverty have increased faster in Fort Worth and Arlington than in these other Texas cities,” said the report, produced by the Center for Public Policy Priorities. The report is based on population figures from 2014.

“No child’s ZIP code should determine their future,” Mayor Betsy Price said during a briefing Wednesday that walked community leaders through key demographic findings and the challenges they pose to education.

The event was sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, North Texas Community Foundation, the Boone Family Foundation and the Early Learning Alliance. It continues an ongoing community focus on children in poverty.

Jennifer Lee, a research associate at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, urged people to delve deep into the data to find solutions to community issues, including education, job creation and housing. She also said the conversation should be studied with a focus on race, gender and economic disparities.

“How does this affect equity?” she told the audience to consider. “How does this affect kids?”

This report marks a first for Fort Worth. The center does a State of Children report for Texas. This year, the center conducted a series of reports for various cities, Lee said.

Price told the audience at the Amon Carter Center at Lena Pope that there needs to be a focus on better educating youngsters from ages 1 to 8. She said little ones need to learn vocabularies, colors and numbers early so they can be prepared for kindergarten and on reading level by the third grade.

“All children deserve the opportunity to succeed,” Price said.

City leaders, educators and nonprofit groups are working to help more low-income children find a path to success.

Kent Scribner, superintendent of the Fort Worth school district, told the group too many children are falling through the cracks. He said changing demographics and poverty aren’t signs that the “system is broken,” but a call to get to work.

“Kids in Fort Worth are not problems that need to be solved,” Scribner said. “They are assets that need to be invested in.”

Scribner said one goal is to improve literacy among third-graders. Only 30 percent of third-grade students in Fort Worth schools are reading at grade level. He said his goal is to have 100 percent of third-graders reading by 2025.