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2024 Kids County data

Photo by Nicole Taionescu

New report: WA must do better for kids

2024 KIDS COUNT Data Book highlights gaps in education and more

The numbers are out, and they make it clear that Washington has more work to do to improve the wellness and education of its children.

According to the 2024 KIDS COUNT® Data Book, a 50-state report that analyzes how kids are doing in post-pandemic America, the Evergreen State ranks 14th in the U.S. when it comes to kids’ overall well-being but in the bottom half of states (26th) in educational outcomes, particularly in math and reading. 

The report, produced for the 35th year in 2024, was released by the Annie E. Casey
Foundation on June 10. Each year, the Data Book presents national and state data from 16 indicators in four domains —
economic well-being, education, health, and family and community factors — and ranks the states
according to how children are faring overall.

Readiness to learn or graduate

Between 2018 and 2022, Washington lagged behind the national average in early childhood education, with 57% of children ages 3 and 4 not enrolled in school, compared to the national figure of 54%. High school graduation rates also present a concern, with 18% of Washington high schoolers failing to graduate on time in 2020-2021, exceeding the national rate by 4%.

Dr. Stephan Blanford, executive director of the statewide Children’s Alliance, said in a release that the new data shows that Washington
needs to do more to prepare kids to learn—to ensure all can earn in adulthood.
If Washington and other states fail to address educational gaps and inequities, Blanford said, hundreds of billions of dollars in future earnings and trillions of dollars in lost economic

“Access to high-quality early learning and K-12 education sets our children up for future success,” Blanford said. “But right now many kids in Washington are not getting the support and resources
they deserve. Now is the time for lawmakers to step up and identify sources of progressive revenue that
will allow for increased investments in our education system.”
Children’s Alliance is Washington state’s member of the
KIDS COUNT network. 

Some better, many indicators worse

Other highlights from the 2024 report:

  • The state ranked 28th in economic well-being. The report shows that Washington faces challenges in housing affordability, with 31% of children residing in households burdened by high housing costs. Health indicators, though commendable at 4th in the nation, have witnessed concerning trends, including an uptick in low birth weight and child and teen mortality rates between 2019 and 2022.
  • Although Washington ranked 4th in health, some indicators worsened between 2019
and 2022, including the number of low-birth-weight babies, which rose from 6.4% to 7.0%, and child
and teen deaths per 100,000, which grew from 21 to 26.0%.

  • 72% percentage
of Washington eighth graders were not proficient in math in math in 2022, down from 60% in 2019. 
  • On the positive side Washington is faring better in family and community indicators. W. The percentage of children living in high poverty areas
in Washington was down to 2%, according to data from 2018-2022, compared to 8% nationally. That’s 11th place in the rankings.

Experts have been sounding the alarm on the country’s low reading and math scores for years. Compared to peer nations, U.S. children are less equipped with the high-level reading,
math, and digital problem-solving skills needed for many occupations in a highly
competitive global economy.

The report suggests that while addressing those education gaps, Washington and other states must also address gaps in basic child needs.

What should be done

“Kids of all ages and grades must have what they need to learn each day, such as enough food and sleep
and a safe way to get to school, as well as the additional resources they might need to perform at their
highest potential and thrive, like tutoring and mental health services,” said Lisa Hamilton, president, and
CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “Our policies and priorities have not focused on these factors
in preparing young people for the economy, short-changing a whole generation.”

The foundation recommends the following:

  • Ensure kids are ready to learn by
providing access to low—or no-cost meals, a reliable internet connection, a place to study
, and time with friends, teachers, and counselors.

  • Expand access to intensive tutoring for students who are behind in their classes and missing
academic milestones. Research has shown that the most effective tutoring is in-person, high-dose,
and tied directly to the school.
  • Allocate any remaining pandemic relief funding to prioritize students’
social, emotional, academic, and physical well-being. Washington has used nearly 90% of federal relief funds for education.
  • States and school systems should gather and report chronic absence data by grade and address chronic absence so more students return to
learn. Improving attendance tracking and data will inform future decision-making. Lawmakers should
embrace positive approaches rather than criminalizing students or parents due to attendance
challenges because they may not understand the consequences of even a few days missed.
  • Policymakers should invest in community schools and public schools that provide wraparound
support to kids and families. By offering tutoring, mental health support, nutritional aid, and
other services, community schools use innovative and creative programs to support young
learners and encourage parent engagement, which leads to better outcomes for kids.

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Seattle Child Staff

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