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Utah ranks third for overall child well-being but may need more education support

Mother and daughter riding a horse at sunset
DisobeyArt -
Mother and daughter riding a horse at sunset

Utah ranks third in this year's Kids Count Data Book, which examines 16 indicators of economic well-being, education, health, and community and family.

Martin Munoz, Kids Count director with Voices for Utah Children, said policymakers should be concerned that this year's data book shows 63% of Utah fourth-graders weren't proficient in reading and 65% of eighth-graders weren't proficient in math. He said another issue is chronic absenteeism, which is when a student misses 10% or more days of school.

"The national average is 30%, and Utah is at 28%. And in that 28%, we're seeing higher percentages within our minority communities, with Latino students seeing around 37% in absenteeism," Munoz explained. "But the highest one is our Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders, at 52%."

Munoz said lawmakers should embrace positive approaches rather than criminalizing students or parents due to attendance challenges. He said through outreach, educators and policymakers could do better to find out what is happening at home and inhibiting students from arriving to the classroom.

The report also recommends children have access to low-cost or no-cost meals, a reliable internet connection and a place to study and spend time with friends, teachers and counselors.

Munoz said the nation's overall vitality depends on how well states are doing, in terms of equipping children with the foundation and tools they'll need to be contributing members of society. He said more can and should be done.

"Education is definitely one of the tools of an equalizer within poverty. And so, it is very concerning to see the numbers that we have, the most current is 2022, and locally it is just continuing to be a concern," he said.

Leslie Boissiere, vice president for external affairs with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said the extraordinary drop in learning outcomes from 2019 to 2022 translates to decades of lost progress. She added it's important that parents are engaged with their children as schools, and that communities look at ways to better meet their future needs.

"It is an all-hands-on-deck moment. Both the resources within school, the resources within communities, and engaging parents as part of the process to make sure that students have the support that they need and that children have the support that they need in order to succeed," said Boissiere.