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Child Health And Education Improve In Kentucky, But Poverty Prevails

Greg Stotelmyer

An annual report shows Kentucky is in a losing battle over keeping more kids out of poverty.

While a year-by-year indicator of child well-being shows steady improvement in the health and education of children in the Bluegrass State, the number of children living in poverty is continuing to grow.

The results, published in the 25th annual national Kids Count Data Book, were released Tuesday. Terry Brooks, executive director for Kentucky Youth Advocates, says a bright spot is over the last two decades the number of children without health insurance has been cut in half.

"Health is an unqualified win," says Brooks. "Kids are now covered with health insurance who previously were not."

The annual report is based on 16 indicators of child well being. According to the report's state-by-state rankings, Kentucky is 28th in childrens' health and 30th in education.

Brooks calls the situation with Kentucky schools a "classic good news, bad news situation." Over the past 25 years reading and math proficiency have improved, more children are attending preschool, and high school graduation rates have increased. But Brooks cautions Kentucky faces persistent problems with student achievement.

"We still have two out of three kids who can't read at proficiency in fourth grade," he says. "We have seven out of 10 kids who still can't do math at proficiency at eighth grade."

According to Kids Count, poverty is Kentucky's "albatross." The percentage of children living in poverty has grown by 13 percent since the first report in 1990. Brooks says over the past four years more than one in every four Kentucky children has lived in poverty, and the poverty "crisis" is something state lawmakers could do something about.

"There are common sense, bipartisan solutions on the table," notes Brooks. "Like a refundable state earned income tax credit, increasing child care supports to 200 percent of poverty level, and tackling predatory lending, which is really a plague across the Commonwealth."

Despite the state's economic troubles, this year's Kids Count report ranks Kentucky 35th in the nation for overall child well-being. Brooks says that's an improvement after years of Kentucky's near-perennial ranking in the bottom 10.