National KIDS COUNT report card shows improvements and setbacks for Ky. kids

07/26/2015 09:33 AM

The latest national KIDS COUNT data shows children in the state are getting healthier, but the state has persistent problems in areas of economic well-being, which is impacting some base line education metrics like reading and math scores.

On Tuesday, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its yearly review of data coming from states on an index of 16 indicators, a sort of “national report card for kids,” said Terry Brooks, the director for Kentucky Youth Advocates.

The report uses those indices to rank states on overall child well-being and in economic well-being, education, health and family and community.

Kentucky receives a ranking of 34th in the nation, and the trends found in the report mirrors what’s happening around the United States, Brooks said.

“That actually is in a lot of ways is good news, because for so many years we were the state that brought the nation down,” he said. “Five or six years ago were talking about being 43rd of 44th.”

Kentucky’s metrics are part good news, bad news and head-scratchers Brooks said. One area that does stand out among the rest is improvements in overall health.

“If there is a silhouetted success story in Kentucky when it comes to kids it’s around health policy,” Brooks said, adding that it’s important to note the momentum to improve health came before the Affordable Care Act.

The report indicates that mortality rates for teens have dropped, something Brooks credited to the passage of graduated drivers licenses and booster seat laws.

“If there’s any data point in the entire report that reminds us that Frankfort can make a difference it’s that one data point,” he said.

The report also points to the bad. In Kentucky one in four kids live below the federal poverty standard.

“You think about at and what that one in four translates to is a quarter-of-a-million kids,” Brooks said.

Pointing to the nature of Frankfort and the decades of opportunities missed to pass comprehensive tax reform, Brooks said one way to help kids living below the poverty line could be a state Earned Income Tax Credit.

The federal government offers an EITC, which acts as a tax credit for working people with low to moderate income. Brooks says the state should also enact an EITC for state income taxes, which would essentially offer a refund for those low-income families in which one or more person works.

Those families receiving the refund could then go on and spend the additional capital at local shops and buying groceries, which in the end would benefit all Kentuckians and plug the gap for any lost revenues through offering the credit, he said.

On the avenue of what Brooks calls “head-scratchers,” he said he does not understand “why leaders are not insane” over numbers in the report that for another year in a row show that nearly two out of three 4th graders are not proficient at reading at grade level and seven out of 10 8th graders are not proficient at math.

“I am convinced that the next step forward when it comes to student achievement has very little to do with pedagogue or curriculum,” Brooks said. “We have just about wrung the last drop of blood out of the curriculum turnip.”

“The solution to academic achievement is not necessarily just in the classroom or in the school house it’s a much more broad effort. So I really hope that in some way whether that might be a Matt Bevin or a Jack Conway, whether that’s a President Stivers or a Speaker Stumbo, I would love for somebody to grab those two data points and hold them up and say, ‘What are we going to do about this,’” he said.

Read the full report from the Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Project here.


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