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IA Child Well-Being Report: Trouble Spots in Education


Friday, August 12, 2022   

Some measurements of children's well-being show warning signs in Iowa in the area of education. The numbers contrast with Iowa's overall ranking in a new annual report.

The Annie E Casey Foundation's latest Kids Count Data Book places Iowa ninth in the nation in overall positive outcomes for children. But Anne Discher, executive director of Common Good Iowa, said when you dig a little deeper, Iowa's good reputation for academic achievement shows cracks in the foundation.

The state ranks 22nd in the number of fourth-graders not reading proficiently, and 25th in the number of eighth-graders not proficient in math.

"Those are middle-of-the-road results," she said, "and they're not where Iowans typically expect to see our state rated."

In recent years, Discher said, there's been little improvement in education funding, as well as the governor's push for school vouchers, which can siphon money away from public schools.

She said she worries that the recent tax cuts, to be phased in, could force difficult spending decisions in the future. Republican leaders have defended them, saying it will make Iowa more competitive on multiple fronts.

The report also found that Iowa children, like many others around the country, are in the midst of a mental-health crisis, as they struggle with higher rates of anxiety and depression. The Casey Foundation's vice president for external affairs, Leslie Boissiere, said it shows the pandemic brought a lot of added stress to the nation's younger populations.

"We're seeing an incredible increase in the number of children and young people who are experiencing anxiety and depression," she said. "Children were struggling with mental health issues prior to the pandemic, and the pandemic absolutely exacerbated that - with schools closing, with lack of access to normal socialization that children would see."

In 2020, the report said, 13% of Iowa children ages 3 to 17 were experiencing anxiety or depression. That's slightly above the national level. Analysts say the rates often are higher for children of color.

Disclosure: Annie E Casey Foundation contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Criminal Justice, Early Childhood Education, Education, Juvenile Justice, Welfare Reform. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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