Gov. Mike Beebe says Arkansas’ climb from 42nd to 40th on the Kids Count ranking of states is a direct result of where the state invests its resources, and that may indeed be true.
“We’ve emphasized spending in areas that can have the most direct impact for children, education and health care, and we’ve seen improvements as a result,” Beebe said in an Arkansas News Bureau report in Monday’s edition.
He and Richard Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, tout the programs they believe made a difference: The Arkansas Better Chance early childhood education program and the ARKids First medical insurance initiative.
But there is no success in having 28 percent of the state’s children living in poverty. It is not a triumph to see increasing numbers of children whose parents lack secure employment or are burdened with high housing costs.
Mr. Huddleston also expressed concern about the economy’s long-term effect on children.
“Any time you have 28 percent of your kids living in poverty, that has huge implications because I think the research is pretty clear that the longer a child spends in poverty, the more likely they are to be at risk with all the bad outcomes that we associate with poverty across education, emotion and social development …,” he said. “Even beyond that, I think, of course, it even impacts the future of the state’s workforce as well.”
Arkansas reflected a national trend of improving indicators in education and health concurrent with declines in indicators of economic well-being and family and community.
Those improvements in education and health are vitally important, and we support investments in those areas. Arkansas had fewer children not attending preschool, fewer without health insurance and fewer living in households without a high school diploma than national averages, but the advantage is slight.
This year’s results showed improvements in percentage of children who abuse alcohol or drugs, in teen births and, perhaps most important, in child and teen deaths.
But the increasing number of children living in poverty, living in areas of high poverty and living in households with risk factors to remain in poverty or enter it — that should have a chilling effect on any celebrations about climbing two spots in the state ranking.
The Kids Count Data Book provides a lot of statistical information, although some of it reflects moving targets. The latest year for which data are available varies from category to category, and in some categories it is years behind the calendar date. That makes the idea of ranking states — as useful as it is for media coverage — of limited value.
More important than where Arkansas ranks against Mississippi is where Arkansas ranks against Arkansas: Where did we improve and where did we fall? This year, the state saw improvements in nine areas and worsening conditions in six. One area remained flat.
We look for a year in which we see improvements in all areas. Then we will know that what we are doing is having an impact on our children.