Isles stagnate in well-being for children, report finds

By Mark Ladao, June 17, 2019

“Low-income kids tend to fall behind higher-income kids in the summer.”

Nicole Woo, Senior policy analyst, Hawaii Appleseed

Hawaii is stagnating in its care for children, especially in education and economic well-being, according to this year’s annual Kids Count Data Book report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report, released today, ranked Hawaii 24th in the country for the overall well-being of children for the second straight year, and a closer look shows that Hawaii has made minimal improvements, if any, in key areas.

“That improvement has not kept pace, and other states have had greater improvements,” said Ivette Rodriguez Stern, junior specialist in program development at the University of Hawaii’s Center on the Family.

The report breaks up the overall well-being of children into four categories: economic well-being, education, health and family and community. The most alarming rankings are for children’s economic well-being and education, in which the state ranks 34th and 40th, respectively.

The problems in education start early, as 54% of children ages 3 and 4 in Hawaii are not in school, a 1% increase over 2018’s report and a 10% increase since 2009. The national average for 2019 is 52%, which is the same as it was in 2009.

The problem is that preschools and other child care services in Hawaii have not grown, while the number of children who need those services has.

“The number of seats for kids 3 and 4 years old has remained the same, but the number of children in that age range has gone up,” said Deborah Zysman, executive director of Hawaii Children’s Action Network. “So we’re not keeping up.”

Zysman said much of the country is doing more than Hawaii for younger children.

“We have many other states across the nation that have had much more rapid expansion of public preschool and comprehensive quality child care than Hawaii has,” she said. “We have been growing, but at a much slower pace.”

Zysman said that having kids in school at that age is important because it takes advantage of a crucial developmental stage in their lives, which has a lasting effect throughout their education.

“We still see rather alarming numbers of kids who are getting to kindergarten, and kindergarten teachers noting that they’re not really ready,” she said. “By the end of kindergarten, they really want children to be reading. So, that means if they’re entering kindergarten not really knowing their ABCs, they’re behind already.”

She said there are a number of reasons why kids don’t participate in preschool or other child care services, including there not being any of those services in the community, and even if they are available, they are expensive.

According to the report, the quality of K-12 education hasn’t changed at all in Hawaii from last year, which means it’s still bad: 68% of fourth-graders aren’t proficient in reading, 73% of eighth-graders aren’t proficient in math and 17% of high school students don’t graduate on time. Hawaii is below the national average in all three of those categories.

The low-quality education for children in Hawaii is tied to their poor economic well- being. And one reason why children in Hawaii are ranked poorly in economic well-being, according to the report, is because 36% of them — which is worse than the national average — live in a household burdened with high housing costs.

Those households allocate more than 30% of their income on housing and are considered “cost burdened” by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which means they might find it difficult to afford other basic needs like food, health care and educational programs such as preschool and summer programs.

Nicole Woo, senior policy analyst at Hawaii Appleseed, said that during summer, kids who can’t afford to attend summer programs, such as summer school or camps, suffer from “summer slide,” in which they lose more learned information from the school year than kids who can afford those programs.

“Low-income kids tend to fall behind higher-income kids in the summer, in terms of math and reading,” she said. “And the effect of summer slide is cumulative, so it gets worse and worse the older they get.”

Studies have shown that family income is correlated with SAT scores, with lower-income students achieving lower scores.

Compounding the high housing costs and overall costs of living are the low wages in Hawaii.

“When you look at the absolute dollar amount, we look like we’re doing pretty well, but if you adjust for our cost of living, we end up having the lowest average wage in the nation,” Woo said.

Hawaii was close in this year’s Legislative session to increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour from $10.10 for employers who don’t provide health coverage and $12.50 for those who do, but that measure died near the end of the session.

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