A new report provides an overview on the state of Idaho’s children, showing that education has been slow to improve as the state becomes home to more children.
Released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the annual KIDS COUNT report covers the health and well-being for children across the country, including measures from the health of newborn babies to the rate at which high school graduates enroll in college. This year marked the 30th report issued by the foundation and included more historical data to show how things had changed in states since 1990.
The total number of children in Idaho has increased by 42 percent since 1990, nearly triple the national average growth during that time and the seventh most of any state. Idaho’s child population increased from 313,373 in 1990 to 443,792 in 2017. The diversity of the child population also has changed significantly over the last decades, with Hispanic children increasing from 7 percent of the total number of kids in 1990 to 18 percent in 2017.
On a county level, that increase has occurred most dramatically in Eastern Idaho. Jefferson County led the state with 35.5 percent of its population under the age of 18, while Bingham and Bonneville counties also placed in the top five. In 2017, all eight of the Idaho counties whose populations were made up of more than 30 percent children were east of Twin Falls.
Christine Tiddens, community outreach director with Idaho Voices for Children, said the report was important to nonprofits because it showed them how best to focus their attention.
“What we do is take this data and use this to inform our top priorities and select areas where we can improve children’s lives across Idaho,” Tiddens said.
Tiddens said the most recent report showed areas where Idaho had improved over the years and areas where state was falling behind. Idaho’s scores were the highest in the category of family and community, where it had the seventh-best rankings in the country. Just 75,000 children in Idaho were on food stamps last year, the lowest number in at least a decade, and fewer than a quarter of the state’s children lived in a single-parent household, the second-lowest rate in the nation.
On the other hand, Idaho’s education system was ranked 39th nationally. The state had the fifth-lowest percentage of students who had enrolled in college and the third-lowest per-pupil expenditure, with $8,422 going to each student in 2015.
Tiddens said many of the problems stemmed from Idaho being one of four states without statewide preschool programs. More than two-thirds of Idaho’s preschool-age children were not enrolled in any school, either because of lack of access or an inability to afford it.
“We have a lot of data that shows when kids start off at a disadvantage, their troubles only compound later in school as they continue falling behind,” Tiddens said.
School access has been an increasing focus for Idaho Voices for Children in recent years. In October, the foundation teamed up with the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children and several other groups to create Preschool the Idaho Way, a coalition to provide grants for preschools across the state and push for more schools to be established.
In the other two major categories of the KIDS COUNT report, Idaho’s children were 11th in economic wellbeing and 23rd in overall health. The report said the number of children without health insurance has decreased 55 percent since passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 but noted that 22,000 Idaho children still lack health coverage.