by Kevin Joseph Ryan
The National 2012 Kids Count report is out, which measures the well-being of children throughout the United States. This report is compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, an organization that holds as its mission to build better futures and “effectively meet the needs of today’s vulnerable children.” The good news is Vermont did quite well, coming in 3rd overall. Our neighbors to the east, New Hampshire, came in first – while spending less than half the money per capita than Vermont.
As the survey breaks down, Vermont came in 3rd in education, 1st in health, and 2nd in family and community. In the fourth area the study looked at economic well being and work. Vermont, while not leading the way, still came in 12th out of all fifty states.
Governor Peter Shumlin decided this was cause to celebrate and, to that end, held an event July 25th at the Family Center of Washington County to make a formal announcement. The Governor was flanked at the podium by Family Center Program Director Lee Lauber, Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca, Department of Children and Families Secretary David Yacavone, Health and Human Services Secretary Doug Racine and others. The Governor began by stating his policy, “We know that our kids are our future, that their health determines our health, and that our ability to ensure that we get them services and the quality education that they need will insure that they have a bright future and a bright jobs future.”
The Kids Count Report complied data mainly from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey of 2010 and the U.S. Department of Education National Assessment of Education Progress of 2011, which means that most of the very encouraging outcomes for children in Vermont were created during the tenure of former Governor Jim Douglas. The Kids Count Report looked at four key areas.
#1 – Education – Here, the Casey Foundation looked at four indicators to determine educational well-being, children attending pre-school, fourth graders’ reading proficiency, eighth graders’ math proficiency and percentage of high school students graduating on time. Here, Vermont in third place beats our neighbor New Hampshire in fourth. This is true despite New Hampshire having a higher percentage of age-appropriate children in pre-school (52%) than Vermont (49%). Vermont has a slightly higher rate of reading proficient students (59% to 57%), while New Hampshire students enjoy more math skills (56% to 54%). What brought New Hampshire to its knees here was that in Vermont, only 10% of students fail to graduate from high school on time, whereas in New Hampshire 16% do.
#2 – Health – To determine this ranking, the report used data for low birth weight babies, children without health insurance, child mortality and teen alcohol and drug use. Vermont led the nation in this category, where New Hampshire came in 10th, still respectable, but well behind. The rate of low birth weights were nearly identical, with Vermont having a slight edge (6.7% to 6.9%) against N.H. Vermont also has 98% of children insured right now, while N.H is just behind at 95%. New Hampshire and Vermont are roughly equal in child drug and alcohol use (9% and 7%). In the area of child mortality, New Hampshire falls behind, with 57 deaths per 100,000, while Vermont’s number is 30 per.
#3 – Family and Community – New Hampshire beat Vermont here, with Vermont second in the country, but N.H. first. Again four factors were reviewed in this category, with one being children in single parent families. In Vermont, 30% of children live in such an arrangement, whereas in N.H., the number is 27%. With children living in household where the parent has no high school diploma, Vermont stands at 4% of children, N.H. at 6%. Luckily the number of children living in high poverty areas in both states stand at 1-2%, and both states are roughly equal in teen births at 16-17 per thousand.
#4 – Economic Well Being and Work – This is where Vermont, still being above the national average at 12th out of all states, did not shine. As with the Family and Community category, the criteria for success was predicated more on the condition of families than on the performance of children themselves. The percentage of children living in poverty in Vermont stands at 17%, a small rise from previous years, and in New Hampshire, that number is 10%.* Families where parents do not have secure employment make up those of 25% of N.H. children, while 31% of Vermont’s children live in that same situation. In both states, the number of children whose families have high housing costs track at 39%. This is measured as those households spending over 30% of income on housing.
Overall, Vermont measures up quite well in the Kids Court Survey this year, and New England generally outperforms in the well-being of children. Vermont’s neighboring states, such as Massachusetts, Connecticut and, New Hampshire, all rank within the top 12 given the criteria used. Governor Shumlin noted, “The relationship between our efforts to be the best and outcomes, is directly linked.”
When asked if there have been studies which have shown that to be the case, Governor Shumlin replied, “Every reasonable study, that I have read, and I suspect that everyone at this press conference has ever read, suggests that there’s a direct correlation between early intervention, early services and those children and a bright future…. What’s the evidence that we could do better? $54,000 to send someone to prison.”
When asked why New Hampshire and other New England states are doing better than Vermont in terms of child poverty, the Governor pointed out that we are generally in the same category as our neighbors. Massachusetts, like Vermont, he said was committed to investing resources in the well-being of children under Governor Duval Patrick.
As for New Hampshire, whose state government spends less than half per capita than Vermont does and seems to be achieving virtually the same results, the Governor had this to say: “New Hampshire, its just luck for them, ‘cause they don’t spend much money over there.”
As they said in the old days… we too, should be so lucky.
*Editor’ note: According to this survey, Vermont saw the sharpest increase in child poverty rates in New England, jumping from 13% to 17% from 2009-2010. New Hampshire actually dropped from 11% to 10% over the same period, the only New England state to see a decrease.)