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Number of Kentucky children in poverty should worry us

When it comes to children’s well-being, Kentucky has gained ground in health care coverage, parental employment and other measures included in the 2019 Kids Count Data Book.

But the report released Monday (June 17) by the Annie E. Casey Foundation also makes one grim reality clear: More than one in five Kentucky children – 22 percent – lived in poverty in 2017. That amounts to 223,000 kids, according to the report.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, put it best when he summed up that finding: “That should keep us all up at night.”

Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis also made it clear that Kentucky can do better. The state ranks 34th in the nation in overall child well-being, the report said.

“Clearly, the results show that we have work to do. Investment in child welfare, well-being, and learning must continue to be a priority for our state,” Lewis said. “As important, however, is our commitment to better using resources and services already available, identifying and applying innovative strategies for meeting children’s needs, further building the capacity of professionals who serve children, and raising our collective expectations for what our children can achieve. Some of this work has begun, but much more is required.”

We wholeheartedly agree. Clearly, more needs to be done to help lift families out of poverty and ensure that every child in Kentucky has a shot at a happy and healthy life.

Kentucky Youth Advocates has proposed several policy solutions to help achieve this goal.

First, KYA supports state investment in a refundable state earned income tax credit, allowing families in need to keep more of the money they make, provide for their families and reinvest in local economies simultaneously.

We see this as a quick solution to help families in poverty dig themselves out of that hole, and while it likely will come at a cost in terms of lost tax revenue, it’s at least worth seriously exploring.

Second, more can be done to improve students’ time at school and enhance their classroom learning experience.

According to the report, the percentage of 3- and 4-year-olds not in school rose from 57 percent between 2009 and 2011 to 59 percent between 2015 and 2017.

Additionally, the report said 71 percent of the state’s eighth graders were deemed not proficient in math in 2017, and 62 percent of Kentucky’s fourth graders were not proficient in that same year.

We believe the state should offer more opportunities for early childhood education, and restore textbook and teacher training funds, which were cut during the last budget cycle.

Brooks put it best when he noted that the solutions to these problems are not complicated.

“It boils down to dollars and cents,” Brooks said. “We’re either going to invest early or we’re going to do remediation later.”

The Bowling Green Daily News