Thursday, January 10, 2013

Growing up in Kentucky: Study finds discouraging trends for children

By Nick Tabor, New Era Senior Staff Writer
A new overview of Kentucky children’s advantages and disadvantages, from birth through high school, shows a heavy dependence on social safety nets, such as public preschools and subsidized meals.
Figures for Christian County reflect trends similar to the state’s.
They also show potentially discouraging gaps in parenting and education: low rates of college readiness, high rates of smoking during pregnancies.
The Kids Count County Data Book study, released by Kentucky Youth Advocates, consists of more than 100 datasets. It gives some broad recommendations but doesn’t delve far into causes. But walking through the numbers, in chronological sequence, gives a unique and useful perspective.
In 2011, this county had about 20,784 residents under age 18. Nearly a third of those children lived in poverty, according to the report. Todd County had about the same ratio, but in Trigg only about a fifth of the children lived in poverty.
Among Christian County’s newborns, about 17.6 percent had mothers with no high school diplomas. That number applies to births between 2007 and 2009. Trigg and Todd scored worse in this area.
Also, more than a fifth of this county’s mothers smoked during their pregnancies, according to 2009 data. Only about 39 percent breastfed their babies, which is far healthier than using formula.
Parents of 1,832 Christian County children received financial aid for child care in the last fiscal year. The state pays an average of $5,766 for a 4-year-old and $6,594 for an infant. These subsidies are smaller than the federal government recommends, and Kentucky Youth Advocates warn that this might cause a lower level of quality.
In Trigg County, only 90 children received these subsidies, and there were 193 in Todd.
When they reached the ages of 3 and 4, about 23.3 percent were in publicly funded preschools. Some of these kids were disabled and some were poor. Trigg had 39.5 percent; Todd had 47.5.
For those old enough to attend school, 15 percent were “chronically absent” from classes, meaning they missed a tenth or more of the school year. Todd had the same percentage; Trigg had 33.1.
According to the report, children usually miss school for one of three reasons: illness, socioeconomic factors, or court involvement; fear of harassment or embarrassment; or having families that don’t value education.
For kids in Christian County’s public schools, about 73 percent were eligible for free or subsidized meals. Trigg had 55 percent; Todd had 61.
Kids who get enough to eat are more likely to succeed, the report states.
Only 0.5 percent of local students were suspended for breaking the law, whereas it shot to 2 percent or higher in a few counties. But 8.4 percent were suspended for breaking school rules.
As for test scores, nearly 60 percent of this county’s high schoolers scored less than proficient on reading tests, and more than 65 percent missed the mark on math tests.
More than a fifth of students here fail to graduate within four years, though the rate improved between 2008 and 2011. Trigg and Todd have slightly better graduation rates.
But even among the graduates, a majority — 54.1 percent — are unprepared for college or careers. This estimate came from the Kentucky Department of Education and the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.
In Todd, only 36.4 percent met the readiness criteria. In Trigg, 54.1 percent.
That puts them in a tough position entering adulthood. About 54 percent of Kentucky jobs will require postsecondary education within five years, the report states.

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