Las Vegas Sun

July 1, 2015

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Sun editorial:

For the children?

Kids Count survey shows how rhetoric has failed in Nevada

In public policy debates, people often invoke “the children” or “future generations” to push their points. Sometimes they’re sincere, sometimes not, but there is an underlying truth that what we do now will have profound effects on the generations to come.

As parents and grandparents, we are keenly aware of that, and although we hear people and politicians talk about the children and the future of Nevada, we rarely see the rhetoric turn into action.

We saw another jarring sign of the state’s failure to pave the way for future generations when the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual Kids Count report. It surveys children’s well being, looking at education, economics, family and health. Nevada was ranked 48th in the nation, ahead of Mississippi and New Mexico.

As Paul Takahashi reported in the Sun, the good news of this is that Nevada improved in 11 of the 16 indicators surveyed.

“Improvement comes slowly,” said Rennae Daneshvary, the director of Nevada Kids Count. “We have seen some progress. There’s hope for Nevada. We can’t give up.”

Progress is good, and it should be celebrated. But there’s bad news, as well: The progress wasn’t monumental — Nevada’s overall ranking stayed the same — and it has been painfully slow. And besides, this is hardly the first time Nevada has ranked poorly in a survey like this. (You might remember the old mantra about Nevada being on the top of all the bad lists and the bottom of all the good lists. Sadly, it still holds true.) Consider some of the troubling details of the Kids Count report:

• Education: Nevada ranked at the bottom of the nation for graduation rate and preschool participation. Twenty-three percent of children live in a family where the head of the household doesn’t have a high school diploma, which is not a good sign for childhood achievement. Nationally, the average is 15 percent.

• Economics: Nevada ranked worst in the nation for “idle teens,” unemployed high school dropouts between 16 and 19 years old. Over the course of the recession, the state saw an 18 percent increase in the number of idle teens.

• Family: More than 144,000 children live in poverty, and nearly 1 in 10 children in Nevada live in a “high poverty” area. And, although there has been an improvement, Nevada has the fourth-highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation.

• Health: Roughly 1 in 6 children in Nevada lacks health care, according to the Kids Count survey, and that’s down from 1 in 5 children in 2008.

Although it may be improving somewhat, the overall picture for Nevada’s children from the report is still bleak. Part of that is economic; Nevada is still struggling from the effects of the recession, and that affects children. But the economy can’t be blamed for everything. The underlying issues are embedded in decisions made by Nevadans — not just the politicians but also the voters who haven’t invested in education and social services.

In recent decades, a majority of politicians haven’t risked in taking bold steps. And voters largely haven’t supported politicians who are willing to take those risks, nor have voters rallied behind measures to support better schools and services.

The result of Nevadans’ failure to act hasn’t exactly affected the adults who make those decisions. However, it is not hyperbole to say the children are the ones who suffer.

To say that’s a shame wouldn’t capture the reality. It’s a tragedy.

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