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Report: Idaho Could Improve Children's Health, Education

Idaho ranks 20th overall for child well-being in a new national report, but last in the country for its high number of young children not enrolled in preschool. (Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
Idaho ranks 20th overall for child well-being in a new national report, but last in the country for its high number of young children not enrolled in preschool. (Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
June 13, 2017

BOISE, Idaho – Results from an annual report released today on child well-being show a mixed bag for Idaho kids.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book assesses states on key indicators of how children and families are faring.

This year, it ranks Idaho 20th overall. The state ranked high in economic security, at 14th, as well as for 'family and community support,' at 11th.

Alejandra Cerna Rios, policy analyst with Idaho Voices for Children, says the number of children with health insurance is increasing as well, although that gain is precarious for those living in poverty.

"Their parents may not have access to affordable health care, and that really puts families at economic risk," she says. "One medical emergency or catastrophe can really shake the financial ground for a lot of families who are already struggling."

The rate of uninsured children in Idaho currently sits at 6 percent, slightly above the national average of 5 percent, and the state has about 76,000 children living in poverty, according to the report.

The Gem State also could be making more progress in terms of educating children, ranking 43rd in the report and dead last for the number of toddlers not enrolled in preschool - at 69 percent, compared with the national average of 53 percent.

Cerna Rios says the primary reason is a lack of funding.

"Early learning is another area where we really see no investments, and Idaho is one of only a handful of states that doesn't allocate any state funding towards early-learning programs that are going to help particularly kids who are economically disadvantaged be ready for school," she explains.

Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the Casey Foundation, says collecting this data matters for states, and can help drive lawmakers to invest in what works for kids.

"We've been tracking these measures for more than 25 years, because we believe in the importance of really getting a clear, unbiased measure of child well-being over time," Speer says. "We want folks to use this information to make good decisions, so that we can maintain the gains that we've been able to achieve."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID