Look out for children

Since 1990, Kansas’ ranking among states regarding child poverty has dropped from 11th to 27th.
Since 1990, Kansas’ ranking among states regarding child poverty has dropped from 11th to 27th.

Gov. Sam Brownback and other leaders at the state and local levels should do more than cross their fingers and hope that the health and well-being of Kansas kids improve. They should pay attention to specific indicators of how children are faring in the state, especially as they look to trim spending amid the state’s budget crisis.

It was worrisome, for example, to see the governor propose last week taking $15 million meant for the Children’s Initiatives Fund and the Kansas Endowment for Youth – money from the late-1990s multistate tobacco settlement earmarked for early childhood education. Though the fund raid wouldn’t affect allocations for fiscal 2015, it would further undermine what was meant to be a long-term investment in getting Kansas children’s learning and student achievement off to a strong start.

Among the data points of concern in the United Health Foundation’s latest annual America’s Health Rankings report, out last week, and the Kids Count report released in October:

▪  Since 1990, Kansas’ ranking among states regarding child poverty has dropped from 11th to 27th. Though the UHF report showed the number of Kansas children in poverty having dropped from the shocking high of 23.4 percent in 2013 to 18.1 percent for 2014, that compares with 14.3 percent of Kansas children having lived in poverty in 1990.

Over that span, “most states have seen a reduction in children’s poverty, and Kansas has seen an increase,” Jeff Willett, vice president for programs for the Kansas Health Foundation, told the Topeka Capital-Journal.

▪  Immunization coverage is comparatively low among Kansas teens, with the 53.8 percent rate for 2014 ranking the state ahead of only Alaska, Arkansas and Mississippi in the UHF report. The Kids Count data showed only 61 percent of Kansas kindergartners in the 2012-13 school year had received all their recommended immunizations by age 2, down sharply after climbing from 63 percent to 72 percent since 2009.

The UHF report had some bright spots for Kansas, too, including an 89 percent rate of high school graduation, which pushed Kansas up to fifth among states from eighth in 2013 and 23rd in 2009, and steady improvement since 2011 in infant mortality and teen birth rate.

Meanwhile, Kids Count found increases in the percentage of elementary schools offering prekindergarten or programs for at-risk 4-year-olds (50 percent in 2014, up from 45 percent in 2009) and the rate of pregnant women receiving at least adequate prenatal care (up from 77 to 82 percent in five years) and significant decreases in youth tobacco use and binge drinking.

And the dramatic decrease in children benefiting from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program under Brownback – down from nearly 26,000 in 2011 to 15,000 last year, according to Kansas Action for Children – bears watching.

So does the welfare of Kansas children overall.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman