Gov. Mike DeWine and First Lady Fran DeWine spent Tuesday afternoon celebrating Ohio’s use of the free children’s book service Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which is nearing 50% participation by kids from infants up to age five.
But the shadow of grim child health and school absenteeism still hangs over the state, according to a new study.
A national analysis of everything from infant birth weight to high school graduation rates was released last week, and Ohio has worsened in areas such as child and teen deaths, economically disadvantaged students, and low birthweight babies.
The state ranked 33rd in the nation in “family and community” indicators, 32nd in health, 28th in education and 27th in child economic well-being, landing at 31st overall in the national data profile.
Chronic absenteeism showed a dramatic increase, going from 7.5% in 2019-20 to 24% in 2020-21. The interim state Superintendent of Public Instruction, Stephanie Siddens, previously warned of this problem after the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted in-person schooling throughout the state.
The state didn’t improve in fourth-grade proficiency over the last decade, remaining at 64% of grade-level students registering as not proficient. More than half of Ohio eighth-graders lack proficiency in math, though the rate went from 64% in 2009 to 62% in 2019.
The “Kids Count” project came from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and includes annual state breakdowns of child wellbeing to “spark discussion on data-driven solutions to improve child outcomes.”
The Children’s Defense Fund of Ohio broke the data down even further, applying the Kids Count numbers to counties and districts.
“There are still many uncertainties and challenges that lie ahead of us, but one thing is clear we must do our best to ensure they are properly cared for in the midst of this pandemic,” said Tracy Najera, state director for the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio.
The percentage of low birthweight babies rose from 8.3% in 2020 to 8.7% last year, with children enrolled in Medicaid only marginally improving, from 51.8% in 2020 to 51% in 2021, according to CDF-O analysis.
The Kids Count numbers showed worse rates of child and teen deaths, at 28 per 100,000 in 2020.
The number of students considered economically disadvantaged went up between 2019 and 2021, from 47.3% to 48.4% of students.
The state did see some positive trends, with the poverty level for children declining from 18.1& in 2019 to 16.6% in 2020, and children receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits from 29% to 25.7% between 2020 and 2021.
The overall high school graduation rate rose from 85.9% in the 2019-20 school year to 87.2% the year after, and out-of-school suspensions and expulsions went from 8.8 per 100 students in 2019-20 to 2.8 in 2020-21.
Teen births in females aged 15 to 17 saw only a slight decrease, from 6.8 per 1000 teen girls in 2020 to 6.2 in 2021.
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