State moves up two places in Kids Count report
Louisiana improved in an annual national ranking of child well-being from No. 49 to No. 47, according to the report released Wednesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charitable organization.
“It’s been 10 years at No. 49. It seemed like we owned No. 49,” said Teresa Falgoust, a coordinator for Agenda for Children, a New Orleans organization that tracks law and policies involving children.
The Kids Count annual report compares counts and statistics compiled by various government and charitable organizations on family economics, health care, education and community measures.
Louisiana improved in 11 of 16 measures, including a 4 percent decrease in the percentage of children living in poverty in 2010 and 20 percent decrease in the number of high school students not graduating on time, according to the Kids Count report. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, based in Baltimore, is funded by the heirs to the United Postal Service and focuses on children’s issues.
The number of teenagers who are neither working nor in school increased 27 percent but the percentage of fourth graders who are reading proficiently also increased, according to the report.
Falgoust, who oversees Louisiana’s Kids Count Program, said part of the reason for the improved ranking is a change and an increase in the number of indicators used to calculate the ranking.
Previous years have used 10 indicators but the 2012 edition of the report used 16. For instance, earlier reports ranked both the number of babies born with a low birth rate and the infant mortality rate. Louisiana traditionally ranks poorly in both categories, Falgoust said. But the 2012 edition used only the low infant mortality indicator.
That gave other indicators in which Louisiana is relatively stronger more influence in the overall calculation, she said.
“Health care is really driving some of the key indicators,” said Bruce Greenstein, secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals. “We’re doing better in these key indicators.”
Kids Count showed that only 6 percent of the children in Louisiana lacked health insurance in 2010. Nationwide that percentage was 8 percent.
Greenstein said Louisiana is doing a good job providing Medicaid, the joint state and federal program that provides health care coverage for children, the disabled and the elderly. The process has been streamlined to allow people to avoid having to come in for face-to-face meetings to renew coverage, he said.
The state also provides generous eligibility standards that opens the program to more people, Greenstein said.
In a prepared statement, state Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Suzy Sonnier said she was encouraged to see the progress. “Our ongoing collaboration with Louisiana’s child-serving agencies and community partners is essential in order to maintain our improved education, health and child poverty outcomes and to keep them moving in the right direction,” Sonnier stated.
State Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, said she is worried about the impact of budget reductions to health care and social safety programs. “I’m glad to see that the numbers are decreasing,” said Barrow, whose north Baton Rouge district includes some of the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods in the state.
“We may have been moving on the right trajectory, but some of those new changes, I’m worried,” Barrow said. “The changes will have consequences. We may not see the impact of the policies we have made in the past year for another couple years. But then I’m afraid we’re going to see the rankings slide back.”