As N.C. lawmakers lumber toward ending their short session still making unwise policy choices that hurt the well-being of many North Carolinians, they should consider the troubling findings of the 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book.
The annual report from The Annie E. Casey Foundation is based on statistics through 2012. It ranks North Carolina a disappointing 34th in the nation for overall child well-being, and even worse, 38th for childrens economic well-being and 36th in services and community support for families. The state ranked slightly better for health (32nd) and had its top ranking in education at 28th.
Of course, the Republican dominated N.C. legislature has made unfortunate decisions that could drop that education ranking in the future. And in the current wrangling over the state budget, teacher assistant jobs and pay raises for teachers are at risk. In a mind-numbing change, the legislature voted for a costly rewrite largely for political reasons of the Common Core education standards. The governor pledges to make sure the rewrite keeps high standards but thats a hope, not a certainty.
The KIDS COUNT report highlights this disturbing fact: The child poverty rate is on the rise in the Tar Heel state. In 2012, 26 percent of children in North Carolina lived in poverty, up 24 percent from 2005.
Notes Laila A. Bell, director of research and data at NC Child, home of the NC KIDS COUNT project: These data show N.C. children are at risk of falling behind in key areas, leaving them underprepared to compete and excel in the 21st century economy... It is important that we invest in solutions that have been shown to help children overcome the negative effects of poverty, like high-quality early education. Unfortunately, more than half of our children ages 3 to 4 are currently not attending preschool, and our legislators have debated proposals to restrict not expand access.
Unfortunately, lawmakers this year also jettisoned one of the states best anti-poverty measures, the state Earned Income Credit. The refundable tax credit is only available to people who actually work and had helped more than 900,000 low-wage workers in North Carolina from falling below the poverty line. The legislature could have and should have reinstated the state EITC this session but sadly did not.
On Friday, lawmakers in the House wisely backed off another unwise change. House members rejected a measure that would have killed the Child Fatality Task Force, a study group credited with lowering the childhood mortality rate in North Carolina by 32 percent over the past three decades. North Carolinas health ranking in the KIDS COUNT report got praise for improvement in part because its child and teen deaths declined by 21 percent from 2010 to 2012.
Patrick T. McCarthy, president and CEO of The Annie E. Casey Foundation, rightly notes that improving the outcomes for all children is essential for our nation to remain strong, stable and globally competitive. N.C. policymakers must start acting like they realize that, too.
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