Las Vegas Sun

November 26, 2014

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Report shows more Nevada kids in poverty; lawmakers consider funding change

More Nevada children are living in poverty as the state sluggishly recovers from the Great Recession, according to a new UNLV report released Wednesday.

Each year, UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research publishes the Nevada Kids Count Data Book, which looks at the health and well-being of children in the Silver State.

Nearly a quarter of Nevada children were living in poverty in 2012, according to the most recent state Kids Count report. Nevada’s child poverty rate — 23.4 percent — is higher than the national average, which is 23 percent, and has crept up 8.4 percent since the start of the recession in 2008.

This uptick in the number of poor children is “troubling,” said Stephen Brown, the executive director of Nevada Kids Count. That’s because the state’s child poverty rate has worsened in spite of some positive economic signs and even as other child well-being indicators have improved.

“These are the children who are in danger of being left out (of the economic recovery),” Brown said. “Poverty perpetuates poverty.”

Some states have been able to mitigate the impact of poverty on children’s education with increased per-pupil funding. However, Nevada’s underfunded school system continues to perpetuate a cycle of poverty, Brown said.

State lawmakers are now looking at revising its K-12 funding formula to increase per-pupil funding for low-income students.

“The best-performing school districts actually do have more money. Spending seems to matter,” Brown said. “We have among the worst funded schools in the nation. It’s time for Nevada to change that.”

Although Nevada’s child poverty rate worsened, other health and education-related indicators improved over the past year, according to the UNLV report. The Silver State lowered its percentage of low birth-weight babies, infant mortality rate, child death rate, teen death rate, teen birth rate and its high school dropout rate.

While Nevada schools posted a higher graduation rate (71 percent) and lower dropout rate (4 percent), Brown said the numbers still “make Nevada look bad.”

“Not only does it look bad for state rankings, but it suggests trouble for the future,” Brown said. “Parents are left out (of the economic recovery) because they don’t have enough education. And now their children are being left out.”

The Nevada Kids Count report measures the educational, social, economic and physical well-being of children across the state, and includes dozens of other indicators, like child abuse figures and juvenile crime.

The state report, sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, will be compiled in the national Kids Count report, which will include state-by-state rankings on education and other indicators. This year’s national report and rankings have not been released yet.

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