By Mark Moran - Producer-Editor, Contact - News



Big Sky Connection - New data show Montana ranks above the national average in the overall health and well-being of its kids. While the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count Data Book shows the state made progress in among 16 key social, family and economic indicators, it is lagging in critical areas. Comments from Xanna (ZAN-uh) Burg, Kids Count director, Montana Budget and Policy Center.

Click on the image above for the audio. In Montana, one-third of fourth graders scored at or above proficient in reading in 2022, according to the new Annie E. Casey Kids Count Data Book. (Adobe Stock)

Mark Moran

June 10, 2024 - New data show Montana ranks 20th for the overall well-being of its children.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation's "Kids Count Data Book" reported the state is making improvements among 16 key indicators but lags in some critical ones. The Data Book showed more Montana kids live with parents who have stable employment, fewer are living in poverty or high poverty areas, and fewer kids live in single-parent households.

Xanna Burg, Kids Count director for the Montana Budget and Policy Center, said despite improvements, at least 23,000 Montana children live in poverty -- in households with incomes of about $30,000 for a family of four -- and it has a trickle-down effect on the kids.

"What's the context where a child grows up," Burg asked. "That context really influences kind of the resources that are available to them."

The report showed the Montana teen birthrate is down but the number of children without health insurance is up and the statistic is likely to continue to increase, as Montana is aggressively removing families from pandemic-era Medicaid coverage. The report also showed poverty is disproportionately higher among Black and Indigenous people.

While there are social and economic improvements for kids in Montana, almost three-quarters of eighth graders are not proficient in math and two-thirds of fourth graders are not reading at grade level. The numbers have not changed much since the last count but Burg pointed out, given the pandemic-related disruptions in the education system, it may be a silver lining.

"The fact that we're not seeing a sharp rise in the number of children who are below proficient; I think that's, in some ways, a good thing," Burg explained. "At the same time, we're also not seeing much progress, right? And so, the reality is still very similar for kids now, compared to 2019."

Burg remains convinced there are policy solutions to address the areas where Montana is not doing enough to support its children. She added some of the low scores -- even the ones beyond reading proficiency and Medicaid enrollment -- are the result of the pandemic.

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