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Report: Arkansas Kids Behind in Health, Education

Students who live in poverty in Arkansas face an uphill battle to get a good education, according to data from the annual Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Book. (AdobeStock)
Students who live in poverty in Arkansas face an uphill battle to get a good education, according to data from the annual Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Book. (AdobeStock)
June 17, 2019

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Fewer Arkansas children are living in poverty, but the state's kids continue to suffer from declines in both health and education, according to the annual Kids Count Data Book.

The study showed the number of Arkansas children living in poverty dropped by 9,000 from 2016 to 2017 - the period covered by the study. And Arkansas's overall economic well-being improved to 36th in national rankings. Rich Huddleston, executive director at Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said growing up poor is one of the biggest hurdles in life kids can face.

"The child who grows up or spends any significant time in poverty is much more likely to have their health negatively impacted, the brain development impacted, school performance is going to suffer and also their ability to get better jobs that pay better wages are most significantly reduced the longer that they spend in poverty,” Huddleston said.

The Annie E Casey Foundation report also showed the state doing worse in both education and health, with poor results in both math and reading proficiency. In addition, Arkansas had more low-birthweight babies, fewer children with health insurance and more child deaths than in the previous year.

On the positive side, the state was in the top 15 for pre-K enrollment and high school graduation rates.

Huddleston said Arkansas children continue to suffer from the state's persistent racial and ethnic divide.

"Poverty rates for children of color tend to be twice as high as poverty rates are for white kids,” he said. “I mean, that's really due to no fault of their own or even to their parents. But it's really the result of centuries of bad state and federal policy."

Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs with the Casey Foundation, said direct lines can be drawn between improvement in well-being and policies that have supported those successes.

"The investment in health care through the Affordable Care Act, through the Children's Health Insurance Program and even through Medicaid Expansion has had a significant impact on all children, but also on children of color,” Boissiere said.

Boissierre also said an accurate 2020 census count is critical, because major federal programs - including Head Start and the Children's Health Insurance program - allocate more than $880 billion each year based on census data.

Disclosure: Annie E Casey Foundation contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Criminal Justice, Early Childhood Education, Education, Juvenile Justice, Welfare Reform. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR