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National report finds Kentucky failing its children

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(The Center Square) – The latest annual report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds Kentucky children are in many ways worse off than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its KIDS COUNT Data Book, the Baltimore-based national philanthropic organization ranked the Bluegrass State 38th overall in terms of child well-being. Each state’s placement is determined by its performance in metrics measuring economic well-being, education, health and family and community support.

Kentucky ranked in the bottom half in each of the four categories, with education being its best ranking (33rd) and family and community support being its worst (43rd).

Incidentally, KIDS COUNT found Kentucky’s metrics in education all worsened. For instance, the percentage of eighth-graders not proficient in math rose from 71% in 2019 to 79% in 2022. The number of pre-K-aged children not in school went from 59% between 2013-2017 to 61% between 2018-2022.

Dr. Terry Brooks, the executive director for Kentucky Youth Advocates, said in a statement that the state must pursue collaborative measures to help students achieve academic success.

“There was a day when public education was the common ground for our Commonwealth,” said Brooks. “Elected officials, business and faith community leaders, and backyard neighbors came together – and the result? In the early nineties, Kentucky schools were the envy of the nation. We need to reclaim that legacy. We need to move from where we are – when seemingly public education is the most politized and divisive policy issue in Frankfort – and reclaim the ethos of Kentuckians joining together when it comes to K-12 classrooms.”

There is little consensus now in Frankfort between Republican legislators who hold majorities in the state House and Senate and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration.

Beshear has called for 10% raises to teachers and funding pre-K programs, but the General Assembly has not included those in recent budgets. Meanwhile, many Republicans back a school choice constitutional amendment on the November ballot that Beshear argues will take away essential funding from Kentucky’s public schools, especially those in rural communities.

Meanwhile, although the family and community ranking was the state’s lowest, Kentucky saw improvements in each of the four metrics. Children living in one-parent families fell from 36% in 2019 to 34% in 2022. The rate of children living in high-poverty areas fell from 16% between 2013-17 to 11% between 2018-22.

In another notable metric, Kentucky’s rate of 388 child and teen deaths per 100,000 was 37th nationally in 2022. The state ranked 29th in that category in 2019.

Nationally, New Hampshire was the No. 1 state in the report, with Massachusetts and Utah round up the top three. New Mexico was the worst state, with Louisiana 48th and Mississippi 49th.

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