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Idaho Makes Gains in Child Well-Being; Progress Still Needed

Idaho's low participation rate in early education fails to set kids up for success later in their academic lives, according to a new report. (Idaho National Laboratory/Flickr)
Idaho's low participation rate in early education fails to set kids up for success later in their academic lives, according to a new report. (Idaho National Laboratory/Flickr)
June 27, 2018

BOISE, Idaho – Idaho is making gains in critical areas of children's well-being and ranks 21st in the nation, according to an annual report released today.

The 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation assesses how kids are doing in the areas of health, education, economic well-being, and family and community.

The analysis finds Idaho's child poverty rate is 18 percent, only slightly better than the national average of 19 percent. However, the Casey Foundation's Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy, says that number still represents a lot of kids in struggling families nationwide.

"That means about 14 million children living in households that don't have enough income, really, to get by," Speer explains. "The trends are going in the right direction, but it's still too many kids and their families who are struggling just to make ends meet."

According to the report, Idaho's teen birth rate has dropped significantly since 2010, from 33 percent to 20 percent. The number of uninsured children has also dropped. But the state still lags in educational markers, ranking 40th in the nation.

Idaho is last among states in early-childhood education participation. Sixty-eight percent of Idaho children ages three and four aren't in school, compared with the national average of 52 percent.

Christine Tiddens, community outreach director with Idaho Voices for Children, says early childhood education sets kids up for success.

As Tiddens puts it, "They experience higher levels of educational attainment. They see higher levels of career advancement and higher earnings later in life."

She also notes some troubling disparities for children of color and kids from low-wage families. For example, more than four out of five Hispanic children in Idaho aren't enrolled in preschool programs. Tiddens says lawmakers must make investment in preschool a top priority in 2019.

The report also highlights the need to ensure the 2020 U.S. Census is accurate. The young-child under-count has gotten worse with every census since 1980, and was 1 million short in 2010. Speer says it could be just as bad, or worse, in 2020 without action to improve accuracy.

"There's about 4.5 million young children who live in neighborhoods where there's a high risk of missing kids in the count," Speer warns. "And it's important, because the census will inform federal spending for the next decade. We really just have one shot to do this right."

The full report is online at aecf.org.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID