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Idaho, Washington score well on kids’ health, not so well on education

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By Betsy Z. Russell

Washington ranks fifth in the nation for indicators of children’s health in the latest “KidsCount” annual survey of child well-being, while Idaho’s back in the middle of the pack at 24th.

Meanwhile, both states’ rankings suffered on education indicators, with Washington ranked 28th among states and Idaho a lowly 43rd. In both states, the report found above-average rates of young children not in preschool and high school students not graduating on time.

In Idaho, nearly 70 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds aren’t attending any formal early education program; in Washington, the figure is 60 percent. Idaho puts no state funding toward early-childhood education; state lawmakers have long debated the issue, but nothing has passed.

“While many other states are making prudent investments in early learning, in Idaho we’re missing an opportunity to ensure our kids have a strong foundation for future success,” said Lauren Necochea, director of Idaho Voices for Children. “Investments in early learning save taxpayer dollars down the road through reductions in crime and increased productivity.”

Paola Maranan, executive director of the Children’s Alliance, a statewide advocacy organization, said, “Every child in Washington ought to have a great start in life. This data ought to prompt Washington state lawmakers to invest in education and economic security, starting in the earliest years.”

The survey found 22 percent of Washington high school students, and 21 percent in Idaho, not graduating on time, compared to a national average of 17 percent.

Washington’s high marks in children’s health reflect fewer children without health insurance – just 3 percent in 2015, below the national average of 5 percent, and down from 6 percent in 2010 – along with low numbers of low-birthweight babies; teen alcohol or drug abuse; and low child and teen death rates.

Idaho had 6 percent of children without health insurance, down from 11 percent in 2010. And while its figures this year were near the national average, they had improved in all four health indicator areas.

Misha Werschkul, executive director of the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, noted that Washington’s Cover All Kids law created Apple Health for Kids with comprehensive health coverage and uniform eligibility criteria. She said those policy choices are paying off, but potential budget cuts loom.

“In our state, lawmakers must craft a budget that invests in and protects services that improve kids’ lives, like quality early learning and Apple Health,” she said. “It is essential to the health and well-being of future generations.”

Washington ranked 24th in the nation for children’s economic well-being, including child poverty rates and teens not in school and not working; Idaho ranked 14th. In Washington, 33 percent of children were living in households with a high housing cost burden in 2015, though that figured had dropped from 43 percent five years earlier. Idaho’s figure was 25 percent.

On family and community measures, Idaho ranked 11th, in part because of its low rate of children in single-parent families – just 25 percent, compared to the national average of 35 percent. Washington, with 30 percent of children in single-parent families, had a lower teen birth rate, at 18 per 1,000, in 2015, down from 27 in 2010. Idaho’s rate was 23 per 1,000, an even bigger drop from five years earlier, when it was 33. The national average is 22.

The KidsCount report has been issued annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation for nearly three decades; it tracks and compares indicators of child well-being across the country. Overall, it found that while unemployment is down and wages are up, child poverty remains high at 21 percent, three percentage points higher than at the start of the recession.

Patrick McCarthy, president of the foundation, said, “Although trends in child well-being are shaped by many forces, it’s indisputable that good public policy makes a tremendous difference. We know that a failure to invest wisely – or to not invest at all – negatively affects children’s opportunities to reach their full potential.”

The most dramatic change highlighted in this year’s report is the increase in health insurance coverage among U.S. children, from 85 percent in 1997 to 95 percent in 2015.

The Casey Foundation maintains a database of child well-being data at datacenter.kidscount.org.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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