TWIN FALLS — African-American and American Indian children are faring better in Idaho than elsewhere across the nation, but white, Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander children are doing worse.
The “2017 Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children” report was released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It makes comparisons by race and ethnic background on topics such as education and health.
As Idaho becomes more diverse, one childhood advocacy official says it’s important to pay attention to barriers children face in being successful. After identifying gaps in progress, she says the next step is discussion and seeking to make policy changes.
“We all have a stake in planning for the next generation and making sure children have what they need for reaching their full potential,” said Alejandra Cerna, policy analyst for Idaho Voices for Children, a nonprofit based in Boise.
The report focuses heavily on obstacles facing immigrant children and those in minority groups. Idaho has 56,000 children in immigrant families, the report notes. The largest group — 67 percent — are Latino.
The report includes several recommendations: keep families together and in their communities, help children in immigrant families meet key developmental milestones and increase economic opportunity for immigrant parents.
Idaho is ranked second-best in the nation for how African-American children are faring.
The Gem State ranks 11th best for American Indian children, 29th for Asian/Pacific Islander children, 37th for Latino children and 41st for white children.
In Idaho, there’s such a small population of African-American and American Indian children, it’s hard to generalize compared with states with a much larger population, Cerna said. “That was an interesting finding, but something we have to interpret a little for folks.”
It’s the second time the Annie E. Casey Foundation has done this type of report.
Scores are based on factors such as babies born at a normal birthweight, percentage of students reaching proficiency in reading and math, teenage girls who delay childbearing until adulthood, high schoolers graduating on time, children living in two-parent families, parents’ educational attainment and children who are living in poverty.
One area where attention could be focused to help address gaps is early learning, Cerna said.
Preschool and home visiting programs are proven to help children prepare for academic and life experiences, she said.
Children who come from a family with severe economic disadvantages or are learning English as a second language have the most to gain from quality interventions, Cerna said.
Hispanic children in Idaho, for example, are much less likely to be enrolled in early learning program compared with their peers, she said, and are less likely to do well on reading proficiency assessments by fourth-grade.
Idaho is among six U.S. states that don’t offer public preschool programs.
Early childhood education advocates say the lack of state-funded preschool is holding Idaho children back. But opponents say it’s the responsibility of parents, not the government, to prepare children for school.
In past years, state legislators have also expressed concerns about the large price tag of implementing a program, and the impact on school facilities and the already existing teacher shortage.