KCUR: Kansas fares well in new ‘Kids Count’ ranking but has ways to go

By Dan Margolies
June 13, 2017

Kansas scores 15th among the 50 states for overall child well-being, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2017 “Kids Count” report.

The state’s relatively high overall ranking is driven by its No. 7 ranking for kids’ economic well-being, based on indicators like housing affordability and employment security for parents.

But the state fares less well in three other categories: health, in which the foundation ranks it 20th; education, 26th; and family and community,  23rd.

The state’s No. 15 overall ranking is an improvement over its No. 19 ranking last year.

Annie McKay, president and CEO of the non-profit Kansas Action for Children, says the report contains good news for Kansas, but because the data are two years old, they don’t take account of actions by the state since then.

“We’ve since that time left our safety net sort of in disrepair,” McKay says, referring to the 2015 Kansas Hope Act, which codified welfare-to-work policies and lowered eligibility for cash assistance.

But she says recent actions by the Legislature have gone some way to repair the safety net. She notes lawmakers rejected Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal to securitize tobacco settlement money that funds children’s programs. And they rejected his proposal to divert revenue for early childhood programs and instead put the money in an endowed fund for Kansas youth.

“All of those decisions by this legislative body signals to me that we have a group of lawmakers who have recommitted to investing in Kansas kids and investing in the things that they know work,” McKay says.

Kansas Action for Children receives funding for its state-level Kids Count projects, which analyzes childhood trends at the Kansas county level each fall.

In a news release, the Kansas Department for Children and Families touted the Kids Count report, saying the state has improved in 12 areas, including childhood poverty.

The release cites the Kansas Reading Roadmap program, which helps at-risk students learn to read, and welfare-to-work legislation, which Brownback says encourages “the dignity of work.”

This is the foundation’s 28th annual Kids Count report, which uses 16 indicators to rank states by health, education, economic well-being, and family and community.

Missouri fared less well than Kansas, ranking 25th  in overall child well-being. The state ranked 21st in economic well-being, 21st in education and 27th in family and community.

The report measures health by looking at the percentage of children without health insurance, child and teen death rates, low birth-weight babies and alcohol or drug abuse among teens.

It measures education by the percentage of preschoolers not attending school, fourth graders not proficient in reading, eighth graders not proficient in math and high school students not graduating on time.

Economic well-being is measured by child poverty rates, family employment housing costs and the number of teens not in school and not working.

Family and community looks at the percentage of children living in high-poverty areas, single-parent households, education levels of heads of households and teen birth rates.

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