Michigan slips in latest Kids Count report

HOUGHTON – Michigan slipped overall in this year’s Kids Count report.

The state dropped one spot to 32nd in the report, produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and partnered at the state level by the Michigan League for Public Policy. The report measures children’s well-being in 16 indicators across education, health, economic well-being and family/community.

Michigan ranked 38th in education, although the state has improved in a number of measures over the years.

Since the first report 25 years ago, the rate of teen births dropped by 56 percent, while the child and teen death rate dropped by 41 percent.

However, figures such as the number of children living in poverty have gone up, rising by 39 percent since 1990. 2012 figures for the Copper Country were not available in the report released last week.

Cathy Benda, director of the Copper Country Great Start Collaborative, said she is encouraged by the number of children attending quality preschool. The most recent figures available, from 2010, show 34.7 percent of 4-year-olds in Houghton County were in the Great Start Readiness Program. The state rate has improved by 28 percent since the report was started.

However, those figures predate Gov. Rick Snyder’s expansion of the program over the past two years, including $130 million in new funding.

“That’s something we’re going to be able to advance with the expansion of the Great Start School Readiness Program,” Benda said. “Those kinds of things can really help improve the expansion of quality preschool to more and more children.”

Snyder has charged Great Start collaboratives across the state to work on four outcomes: children being born healthy, staying on track developmentally through third grade, being ready to succeed at school when they enter, and being able to read proficiently by the end of third grade.

“These outcomes are predictors of later school success as well as early childhood development,” Benda said.

Michigan ranked 37th in fourth-grade reading; 69 percent of students are not meeting proficiency standards. Local percentages were far better, with Baraga (35 percent), Houghton (26.7 percent) and Ontonagon (32.4) counties all falling far below the state average.

Benda said Great Start will look at the local data and incorporate it into its future planning and development.

“We’ll embed the community needs and some of the Kids Count data into the direction that our focus supports,” she said. “For instance, if there’s educational areas that we really want to work on, and we see it’s in the Kids Count data, it really reinforces our goals.”

Recommendations from the Michigan League of Public Policy include restoring education funding cut since the start of the Great Recession, with an emphasis on meeting reading goals by the end of third grade; supporting low-earning families through tax credits and food and cash assistance; increased child care payments; and reducing the 8.4 percent of babies underweight at birth.

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