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Idaho is one of 10 states that doesn't offer public preschool, although two of those states are currently experimenting with pilot programs.Idaho lawmakers have long wrestled over whether to provide a public education to preschool-aged children. Idaho's conservative majority has resisted.But now, the debate could be revived because a freshman Democratic lawmaker has begun working on a plan to implement public pre-k.

How 'Well' Is The Well-Being Of Idaho Kids?

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The Annie E. Casey Foundation this week released its annual Kids Count report on child well-being. Idaho ranked 22nd out of the 50 states. But Idaho is not really in the middle of the pack when you break that ranking down into its individual components. In some measures, the state’s children have it much better than their peers in other states, and in some they have it much worse.

Here is a breakdown of Idaho’s numbers from the 2016 Kids Count Data Book listed from best to worst ranking. It uses the most recent data available, some comes from 2015, though much of it is from 2014. For a few measures 2012 or 2013 are the most recent with available data.

Family and Community Indicators – rank 13

  • Children in single-parent families – 108,000 or 26 percent, one of the lowest rates in the country.
  • Kids in families whose head-of-household lacks a high school diploma – 48,000 or 11 percent. The national average is 14 percent.  
  • Children who live in high poverty areas – 25,000 or 6 percent, a fairly low percentage.
  • Teen births per 100,000 – 23,  almost right about the national average. That teen birth rate represents 1,303 teens giving birth in Idaho in 2014.

Economic Well-Being – rank 14

Idaho’s economic indicators for kids look pretty good compared to other states, but still seem dire taken on their own.  

  • Children in Poverty – 19 percent or 80,000
  • Kids whose parents lack secure employment – 24 percent or 104,000
  • Kids in households with high housing cost burden – 28 percent or 120,000. Experts say families that spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing are at greater financial risk.
  • Teens not in school and not working – 7 percent or 6,000. This is the only indicator in this category where Idaho is not doing better than the national average.

Health – rank 30

  • Babies with low birthweight – 6.4 percent or 1,471 in 2014. Idaho is better than most states on this.
  • Kids with no health insurance – 8 percent or 34,000. Idaho has among the highest rates of children without insurance.
  • Child and teen deaths per 100,000 – 27, which is higher than the national average.
  • Teens who abuse alcohol or drugs – 6 percent or 8,000. Several states had 6 percent teen alcohol and drug abuse, but none had higher.

Education – rank 37

Idaho’s education ranking is so low largely due to one of Kids Count’s four indicators.

  • Young children not in school – 69 percent or 33,000. Idaho had the highest rate of preschool age children not in school in the country. That’s not surprising, since Idaho is one of just a few states with no public pre-kindergarten education.
  • Fourth graders not proficient in reading – 64 percent, a little better than the national average.
  • Eighth graders not proficient in math – 66 percent, also better than the nation as a whole.
  • High school students not graduating on time – 18 percent, the same as the national average.

Lauren Necochea, director of Idaho Voices for Children which is affiliated with Kids Count, says Idaho’s education ranking went down three spots on this year’s report.

“Our reading scores have improved over the past several years, but not as fast as they have in the nation as a whole. We’re thrilled with the new commitment that Idaho lawmakers made this year to provide additional learning time to struggling readers ... I’m hopeful that our state’s new commitments to literacy interventions and other education initiatives will result in big gains in the coming years. [But] While many other states are making prudent investments in early learning, in Idaho we’re missing an opportunity to ensure our kids have a strong foundation for future success.” - Lauren Necochea, Idaho Voices for Children

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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