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Sandy Garrett's Column

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Kids Count focus: The well-being of children By Sandy Garrett, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Friday, August 14, 2009

As school bells ring and classroom doors open for the new school year, the quality of life for boys and girls in our state takes center stage with the national release of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s “2009 Kids Count Data Book.”

This is a much-anticipated annual report that gives state and national comparisons for children’s well-being. And, unfortunately, what is considered the overall well-being of children in Oklahoma has fallen to a ranking of 44th in the nation; we ranked 38th just four years ago.

Of the 10 key measures studied in every state, we have improved in three, remained unchanged in one and worsened in six since 2000.

• Fewer teens (aged 16-19) are dropping out of high school in Oklahoma,
down from 14 percent to 8 percent in the most recent report.
• The number of teens not in school or working decreased from 11 percent
to 9 percent in Oklahoma.
• The infant mortality rate (deaths per 1,000 live births) has slightly
decreased from 8.5 percent in 2000 to 8.0 percent in 2006.

• The teen birth rate (births per 1,000 females aged 15-19) has stayed the
same since 2000.

• More Oklahoma children are living in homes where no parent has full-time
or year-round employment, rising to 35 percent from 33 percent in 2000.
• Single-parent homes are the norm for 33 percent of Oklahoma children, a
3 percent increase since 2000.
• Children living in poverty—with a family income below $21,027—has risen
from 19 percent in 2000 to 22 percent.
• An increase of low-birth weight babies from 7.5 percent in 2000 to 8.3
• Child deaths (children aged 1-14 per 100,000) have gone from 25 percent
in 2000 to 29 percent.
• Teen deaths (teens aged 15-19 per 100,000) increased from 77 percent in
2000 to 85 percent.

Study after study has shown that family and economic factors such as enjoying regular meals, getting plenty of sleep, and feeling safe and secure impact children’s academic performance. These are not excuses; these are the facts of life. The better we take care of and invest in our children, the more opportunity for success they will have.

While state and national comparisons on the 10 “Kids Count” measures are helpful, data on how each county performs on these measures also is available here or by contacting the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy is our state’s point of contact for a variety of public awareness and engagement activities related to the status of children and families.

Every school day, no matter the situation in which children live and learn, school faculty and staff will continue providing academic instruction, nutritious meals and a caring heart to the children who enroll in Oklahoma public schools. We know that kids count!

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