Giving and Leading: Kids Count Report

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A new Kids Count report, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, shows that conditions have improved slightly for Arizona kids. Conditions for children in our state moved up from 46th in the nation to 45th. Children’s Action Alliance president and CEO Dana Wolfe Naimark will discuss the report.

Ted Simons: Coming next we'll discuss the results of a new report on the welfare of Arizona's children.

Ted Simons: Also tonight a debate on the issue of dark money and anonymous political speech. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Arizona Senator Jeff flake plans to introduce a bill tomorrow that would ban gun sales to terrorists on government lists. It would also include and appeals process and a provision that would alert the FBI if someone removed from the list buys a gun within five years of removal. He expressed optimism.

Jeff Flake: What you see here is an effort not to have a vote that will simply allow each party to use a cudgel to beat the other party with but rather to have something that will actually pass. I appeal to the leadership on both sides to allow a vote. We believe this vote can pass.

Ted Simons: The Senate yesterday considered four competing gun measures, two by Democrats, two by Republicans. All defeated along party lines.

Ted Simons: A new kids count report has just been released showing conditions have improved slightly for some Arizona kids. Joining us is Dana Wolfe Naimark, president and CEO of children's action alliance. What is kids count?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: It's an annual report from the Annie E. casey foundation that ranks 16 conditions for kids, gives us a benchmark of how we're doing compared to our own past and to other states.

Ted Simons: What have we looked at here?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: One is children without health insurance, children living in poverty, the kinds of conditions that can really make a difference for kids' future.

Ted Simons: Sounds as though, we move from 46th last year to 45th. No reason to hold a parade but it is improvement.

Dana Wolfe Naimark: It's the right direction, better than going down. Basically we're in the same range we have been, still in the bottom 10 of the country.

Ted Simons: Why is that?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: Well it's a combination of factors. Certainly our economy has an impact. The fact that we have a very mobile population without a lot of roots here has an impact and our public policies absolutely have an impact. We're a state as you well know lift yourself up by your bootstraps state and though shows up in the numbers because kids need someone to help with their bootstraps.

Ted Simons: I noticed among the more positive aspects of the report, 8th grad math big improvement. 35th to 18th.

Dana Wolfe Naimark: That was exciting.

Ted Simons: What happened here?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: Even before Common Core Arizona worked hard to raise our math standards. And to prepare teachers and students to meet those standards. So we have talked to a lot of folks about how these good results come. They said a lot of sweat and hard work, and it's paying off.

Ted Simons: A lot of early emphasis on rigorous standards.

Dana Wolfe Naimark: Yes.

Ted Simons: 8th grad math that's great. 8th grad math for white kids at or above national proficiency. But only 23% Latino, 19% African-American, 15% American Indian above national proficiency rate. Again, what's going on here?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: That's a good example of how our economy, our neighborhoods and policies work for some children but not all children. We have a lot of disparities by race and ethnicity that affect children's futures. That's a perfect example. When you think about it kids of color are more likely to be poor and live in poor neighborhoods. They are more likely to have underfunded schools and they don't have community support so they may not have books at home but they also don't have after school programs, they don't have quality preschool and child care programs in their neighborhoods, their parents are working multiple jobs, not helping them with their homework. There are so many factors that add up.

Ted Simons: I notice fourth grade reading in general just in general not good. Bottom ten. Why is fourth grade reading so bad and 8th grad math a disconnect?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: Our nation has been focusing on 3rd and 4th grade reading. We have seen some progress but we have a long way to go. That really reflects a lot of children's starting kindergarten already behind. Because we know that third grade reading is linked to your early educational experiences. How much your parents talk to you, read stories with you, where you're going during the day when your parents are at work, what preschool you have, all of that adds up.

Ted Simons: You mentioned preschool. 48th in terms of one in three kids basically participating in some sort of preschool activity.

Dana Wolfe Naimark: That's one that worries me the most frankly when I look at all these indicators. It's one where we have a great opportunity. If we could expand that access to preschool we could move the needle on many of the indicators at the same time. It's not just one kind of preschool. It's a whole range. It could be headstart programs, could be your neighborhood child care center. It could be preschool run by your school district; it could be faith based child care. We need to make sure parents have more opportunities; working parents have more opportunities for that high quality early education.

Ted Simons: High school graduation not good, ranked in the bottom 10. If we continue to have the problem with poverty which seems to be the major educational challenge here as far as how you are seeing it, can that high school graduation rate ever change?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: It can. Actually we have improved quite a bit. Our progress is leveling off so we need to reaffirm our efforts and pay attention as we have over recent years. It can change, but not if we keep doing the status quo. We have had a lot of talk in our state over the past months about our education system. If we turn that into action and make some changes that strengthen our system we can see those numbers improve.

Ted Simons: If you could make one change, what would be it?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: Making sure that that serve a high number of children living in poverty have extra resources, extra tools, well trained teachers to try to overcome the challenges.

Ted Simons: Does it look in general, again, 46 to 45 is no great shakes, is Arizona moving in the right direction?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: Well, I wish I could say that, but we sort of move up and down a few notches each year. It doesn't feel like ab trend yet. I'm hoping 8th grade math is a trend that we see progress continue. But we're still really down where we have been on child poverty, children living in high poverty neighborhoods, which are very dangerous, children without health insurance. That's one we hope to see improve with KidsCare starting again September 1.

Ted Simons: Last question what. Do we make of this report? What do we do with this information?

Dana Wolfe Naimark: Two important things. As community members we need to come together and focus. We can't fix all 16. We need to focus on one or two. Also it's an election year and every legislative seat is up for election. Every candidate running for state legislature should be developing their priorities and plans to move us up.

Ted Simons: All right, good to have you. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

Dana Wolfe Naimark: Children's Action Alliance president and CEO

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