Alabama is not keeping up with the nation when it comes to the well-being of its children, a spokeswoman with Voices for Alabama Children said Friday.
“We’re moving in the right direction, but when you look at the ranking, we’re not doing as well as other parts of the country," said Voices communications manager Angela Thomas.
The annual Kids Count Data Book, released this month, measures the well-being of children nationwide and ranks states in areas of health, education, economic well-being, and family and community structures.
Alabama dropped from 42 to 44.
Decatur Youth Services Executive Director Bruce Jones, who for almost 25 years has worked with at-risk children in Decatur, said he’s not surprised by the report's findings, and that many statewide issues also affect Decatur.
He said some things are getting better in the Decatur area, such as access to pre-kindergarten.
“But we have a lot of drug and alcohol abuse, and kids are suffering because they are not getting what they need at home,” Jones said, adding that children in poverty situations bring a lot of other issues to the table that the community too often looks to the school system to fix.
“They can’t fix it all without additional resources,” he said, referring to teachers and the school system.
Although an improvement over 2010, 25% of children in Alabama continue to live in poverty and 31% of the state’s children live with parents who lack secure employment, meaning the employed parent has a high chance of losing his or her job.
Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce President John Seymour said the chamber has for at least 15 years put in place programs to help expose students to job opportunities in the Tennessee Valley, and about six years ago, the chamber rolled out an initiative with the goal of making sure every child in Morgan County has access to pre-K.
The chamber provides career fairs for more than 1,000 students annually in Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone counties and the pre-K initiative has helped bring 18 additional pre-K classrooms to Morgan County.
“We’re trying to expose children to good job opportunities that don’t necessarily require a college degree,” Seymour said. “By the same token, we have programs for college-bound students because we want them to move back to the area.”
The Kids Count report is put out by the Annie E. Casey Foundation with state-level partners such as Voices for Alabama’s Children. The annual report ranks states based on 16 indicators.
Education is one of the indicators. The report looks at the number of 3- and-4-year-old children not in school, fourth grade students not proficient in reading, eighth graders not proficient in math, and high school students not graduating on time.
Statewide, 69% of fourth graders were not reading at grade level; 79% of eighth graders were not proficient in math; and 11% of students were not graduating on time.
The percentage of Decatur City Schools students not graduating on time was the same as students statewide, but only 59% of the district’s fourth graders lacked proficiency in reading and 55% of eighth graders were not proficient in math, according to Decatur City Schools elementary curriculum/testing coordinator Wanda Davis.
Decatur City Schools Superintendent Michael Douglas said every school has a continuous improvement plan that includes raising reading and math scores because testing data identifies these as areas of concern.
Plans for how to get students to proficiency are different from school to school. One elementary school, for example, plans to require students to spend at least 30 minutes per day in reading labs, while another plans to use intervention teachers to meet with at-risk students in small groups to address specific academic needs.
Thomas said Voices will release a more detailed report in August or September that compares how counties are doing compared to statewide and national data.
“We have to identify programs that are having the greatest impact and invest more dollars in them,” she said. “Clearly, we’re not where we want to be, but we’re making progress.”