Kansas slips two places to 15th overall in an annual nationwide report on child well-being that identifies concerning health factors in the state.
The Kids Count report, scheduled for release on Monday, tracks changes in 16 criteria between 2010 and 2017. Kansas shows progress in nearly every category but saw a rise in the rate of low birth-weight babies and remains far worse than the national average for child and teen deaths.
Kansas performed well in economic areas, however, with a ranking of sixth nationwide. The state saw a 17 percent decline in the number of children in poverty over the eight-year span.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation since 1990 has produced the report, which assigns rankings in health, education, economic well-being, and family and community. In Kansas, the foundation partners with Kansas Action for Children for research and analysis.
KAC president Annie McKay said the report doesn't yet reflect the impact of policy decisions made under former Gov. Sam Brownback, who declined to take advantage of safety net programs for children and families. For instance, McKay said, the effects from a lack of health care at birth will start to show up after the child turns 3.
Because of the lag in reported data, past policy decisions will "keep showing up for years to come," McKay said.
McKay applauded actions by the Legislature this year to improve funding for the state's child welfare services but said it will take more than one budget cycle to climb out of the hole.
On the other hand, the decision by legislative leaders to block the expansion of Medicaid health care coverage to more low-income families prevents the state from making some improvements in the well-being of Kansas children, McKay said.
"The Legislature missed an opportunity to ensure the health of tens of thousands across the state," McKay said. “Lawmakers must act to protect parents and children."
Between last year and this year, Kansas dropped from 18th to 24th in the overall health ranking. The state has shown improvements in the number of children without health insurance and teens who abuse alcohol or drugs, but the rate of low birth-weight babies increased from 7.1 to 7.4 percent between 2010 and 2017.
The state also showed progress in the rate of child and teen deaths per 100,000, improving from 33 to 31. However, the national rate is 26.
Kansas improved in every economic indicator during the Brownback years and beat the national average in all four categories. In Kansas, 21 percent of children's parents lack secure employment, 15 percent of children live in poverty and 22 percent of children live in households with a high housing cost burden. Five percent of Kansas teens are not in school and not working.
The state's education ranking moved up three spots to 18th overall. The state saw no change over eight years in the participation of early childhood education programs, an area that received increased funding from the Legislature this year.
Lawmakers also added $90 million more in annual funding to a public education plan that was installed a year ago. On Friday, the Kansas Supreme Court approved the spending boost, which settles a decade-long legal skirmish over inadequate funding.
One area of concern in the education category is the 65 percent of Kansas eighth-graders who aren't proficient in math. The number was 61 percent in 2010.
The family and community ranking of 23rd is unchanged from a year ago. The state recorded a 46 percent decline in the teen birth rate from 2010 to 2017.
John Wilson, vice president of advocacy for KAC, said the nonprofit group will use the data in the report to inform policy priorities throughout the year and let lawmakers know what is happening in their districts.
“Our tasks should be clear,” Wilson said. “We must make sure that Kansas preserves and increases access to family support programs. We are in a positive position, but progress could easily be undone."