Report: What U.S. state is the best for children to grow up in?
Boaz Buchmanperl, 9, left, and Phoebe Boyd, 9, fourth graders listen to author David M. Schwartz, of Oakland, during a presentation at the Walden Center and School in Berkeley, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2017. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)
Have you ever wondered where is the best place to be a child in the United States, according to child advocacy experts?
Well, it’s not California, which ranked 37th. The top-ranked state is Massachusetts.
That’s according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2017 Kids Count Data Book, which was released Tuesday. The annual report looks at 16 indicators to rank each state based on its health, education, economic well-being and its family and community conditions, that are most needed for kids to thrive, child welfare experts say.
California ranks ninth in the nation for children’s health, mainly because 3 percent of children have health insurance compared to 5 percent nationwide, but in economic well-being, the state ranked 46th, and in family and community conditions, it ranked 42nd, and in education it ranked 38th.
Nearly 3 out of 4 of the state’s fourth graders are not proficient in reading, compared to 65 percent nationwide, according to the study, and nearly 2 out of 3 of the state’s eighth graders are not proficient in math, compared to 68 percent nationwide.
“While we’ve made a slight improvement with fourth graders performing at reading level, we are still near the bottom at both math and reading, and that’s unacceptable,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, an Oakland-based children’s research and advocacy organization that co-released the study with the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The fact that more than half (52 percent) of the state’s young children are not in early childhood education programs, compared to 53 percent nationwide, is one reason why so many kids are not proficient in math and reading, he said.
“We need to respond by providing more early learning to kids and by making sure that we’re getting resources to kids most in need…” he said. “The later you wait, it just gets so much more difficult to get kids up to speed.”
Local experts also noted that the state’s educational rankings are a byproduct of the fact that state funding for K-12 education over the past couple of decades has slipped to the bottom in the nation, Lempert said. The California Budget and Policy Center ranked California 41st for 2015-16, when the state spent $10,291 per K-12 student, which is about $1,900 less than the $12,252 per student spent by the nation as a whole. Even still, that is about $2,000 higher than it was in 2012-13, before the passage of Proposition 30, when California ranked 50th in funding per K-12 student.
“In general, people from outside California think of California as this really progressive state that is doing this great work on behalf of children and youth. However, the data shows that, as a state overall, we do have issues,” said Dana Bunnett, director of San Jose-based child advocacy group Kids in Common.
“But more than 1 in 5 children live in poverty, 32 percent of the children have parents who lack secure employment, and 45 percent are living in households with a high housing cost burden…,” she said. “And so many families are leaving the area, because they can’t afford to live here.”
A lot more must be done to better invest in children’s futures, she said.
To access the report, go to http://bit.ly/2sulVWn.