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Report: Poverty Remains Biggest Obstacle to Well-Being of Kentucky Children

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Kentucky ranks 34th in the nation in overall child well-being, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The 2017 Kids Count Data Book shows the commonwealth ranking even lower in the category of economic well-being at 39th among states. Terry Brooks with Kentucky Youth Advocates says poverty remains the state’s most persistent challenge for children.

"Unless and until we begin to attack poverty in an intentional and long-term manner, we're just nibbling at the edges of every other sector connected to kids," Brooks told WKU Public Radio.More than one in four children in Kentucky are living below the poverty line. Thirty-four percent of kids live in families where neither parents has full-time, year-round employment.

Child advocates are urging the state to adopt an Earned Income Tax Credit and expand child care subsidies that would help low-income working parents keep more of their money.

According to the 2017 Kids Count Data Book, Kentucky now ranks 6th in the nation for its high school graduation rate, yet Brooks says the report has him “scratching his head.”

Kentucky is ranked 24th among states in education. While the state has seen vast improvement in its graduation rate, three out of five 4th graders scored below proficient in reading, and nearly three in four 8th graders scored below proficient in math.

"Does a high school diploma mean anything in Kentucky," questioned Brooks.  "Are we giving diplomas to young people who can't read, write, and cipher?"

Brooks says he’s encouraged by the state’s adoption of charter schools, the newly created school accountability system, and a stronger focus on career and technical education.

While poverty and educational attainment remain barriers for many Kentucky children, access to health care is one of the bright spots.  Ninety-six percent of Kentucky children are enrolled in health coverage, up from 94 percent in 2013.

Much the gains in health coverage for children and adults is attributed to the Affordable Care Act and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  Congressional Republicans are working to repeal Obamacare and President Donald Trump's proposed budget would make deep cuts to Medicaid and CHIP. 

Meanwhile, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin is working to revamp the state's Medicaid system to limit enrollment and make recipients share in the costs, including monthly premiums.  Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky youth Advocates, fears changes will make it harder for adults and children to get health care.

"It is indisputable that when mom and dad are covered with insurance, kids tend to be covered more frequently," stated Brooks.  "As we as a state debate the next chapter of state-run health insurance, we need to recognize that parent coverage is directly linked to kid coverage."

Kentucky has seen one of the sharpest declines in the nation in the number of uninsured residents and is largely attributed to the ACA, dropping from about 20 percent to around seven percent.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.
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