“If today is a typical day in Kentucky, more than 200,000 kids woke up living in poverty,” Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of KYA, said in a press conference Wednesday.
According to this year’s report, that’s an improvement from five years ago. The annual report breaks down the well-being of Kentucky’s 1.1 million children in 16 different categories across four areas: economic security, education, health, and the family/community dynamic. Dr. Brooks said the poverty statistic alone is a big driver behind other indicators where Kentucky is falling behind
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“Where childhood poverty is today, it is truly the canary in the coal mine data point of all Kids Count because that’s where all of those other indicators are going,” he said.
The report shows that about 2 out of 3 Kentucky 4th graders do not read at the national minimum proficiency level, and 66% of 8th graders can’t meet the minimum national proficiency standards in math. It’s a little change from last school year, but the most concerning education statistic is a decrease from five years ago to only 46% of kindergarteners considered “ready to learn” based on the Kentucky Department of Education’s screening. Brooks issued a challenge to lawmakers ahead of the 2024 session.
“Are we going to take measured steps around tax policy and mitigate the increase in childhood poverty?” he asked. “Is there going to be a focused investment within the budget to sustain quality, accessible and affordable child care? Or are we going to wait for it to catch on fire?”
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The report shows access to childcare also creates a big ripple effect on these other indicators and presents a challenge to families as the workforce continues to shrink.
“79 of Kentucky’s 120 counties are considered child care deserts, and the cost of child care is decidedly unaffordable for many of these families,” Liz McQuillen, chief policy officer for Metro United Way, said.
Wage increases and free school lunches are among the recommendations that KYA hopes lawmakers and the governor will see as a roadmap for helping Kentucky’s children in 2024.
The full Kids Count report and county-by-county data can be reviewed here.