New report: Missouri kids healthier but face educational challenges

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(Missouri News Service – Farah Siddiqi) – Missouri children are making strides in overall health, but educational challenges remain, according to the 2024 Kids Count Data Book released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The annual report highlights the well-being of children across the United States by state, providing a comprehensive look at key indicators. While Missouri has seen improvements in some health areas, educational setbacks, particularly in high school graduation rates, are still a concern post-pandemic. The report underscored the need for focused efforts to prepare children for future success.

Tracy Greever-Rice, program director of Missouri Kids Count, emphasized the importance of addressing educational gaps. “Fifty-six percent of young children in the state of Missouri, children younger than 5 years old, are not in any kind of educational programs or school,” Greever-Rice reported.

The Data Book revealed significant learning losses in Missouri during the COVID-19 pandemic, with chronic absenteeism particularly affecting children in poverty. State data from 2022 show nearly three of five eighth graders and fourth graders scored below proficiency in English and math.

Addressing economic factors is also critical, as stable home environments contribute to better educational outcomes. Ensuring economic stability for families is essential for improving school attendance and success. The report indicated one in four parents lack secure employment, and one in five households with children spend 33% or more of their household income on housing alone, which can directly affect children’s ability to focus and succeed in school.

Missouri has made significant progress in reducing the teen birthrate and ensuring access to health insurance for children. “Only 6% of Missouri’s children are without access to health insurance, public or private,” Greever-Rice explained. “The Missouri Medicaid program has been very consistently productive in ensuring there’s coverage for kids.”

Missouri’s success in health and social issues provides a foundation for tackling educational challenges. The state must use insights from the Data Book to guide policies and investments. By focusing on helping children overcome pandemic setbacks and preparing for future success, Missouri can create a brighter future for its children.

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