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Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017 12:01 am

Crunching numbers for Illinois kids

Illinois Kids Count report shows need for improvement statewide and in Sangamon County

This artwork, “What Kids Need,” is from the Illinois Kids Count 2017 report.

 

If the song is correct and “the children are our future,” it stands to reason that the quality of life experienced by children will have an impact on that future. Each year, the advocacy group Voices for Illinois Children releases its Illinois Kids Count report, compiling statistics from throughout the state indicating the well-being of children during the previous year. The report examines factors ranging from birth weight to high school graduation rate, providing a portrait of what it’s currently like to grow up in Illinois.

The 2017 Kids Count has recently been released and sadly – if unsurprisingly – the picture it paints is not a rosy one, particularly regarding kids from lower income families. The report includes statewide numbers, which are helpfully broken down by county, allowing for a view into how Sangamon County stacks up against the rest of Illinois.

In the category of health, Sangamon County scored significantly worse than the state average in terms of birth weight, with 11 percent of babies in the county born at less than 5.5 pounds, compared to 8.2 percent statewide. The rest of the county numbers on health concerns are not quite as dire, comparatively. Only 2.3 percent of Sangamon County children lack health care coverage (state average 2.9 percent) and the ratio of overall population to the number of primary care physicians is 884 to 1 in Sangamon compared to the state’s ratio of 1,240 to 1. Out of the state’s 1,481 child deaths in 2015, 22 occurred in Sangamon County.

In the section of the report addressing family and community issues, the estimated amount of children five and under living at or below poverty level and receiving state child care assistance was calculated at 26 percent statewide, compared to 36 percent in Sangamon County. Of 14,077 Illinois children in the foster care system, 426 were from Sangamon County during fiscal year 2017.

In the related portion of the report examining economic security, the total percentage of children living in poverty is reported as 23 percent in the county, as opposed to 19 percent in Illinois as a whole. The percentage of households struggling with food insecurity is shown at 13.6 percent in Sangamon County, compared to 11.7 percent throughout the state.

Some of the most troubling findings in the report regard educational concerns. The number of Illinois third graders meeting English Language Arts expectations is shown at 22 percent for low-income students and 51 percent for non low-income students. Meanwhile, a comparison of Sangamon County school districts places the low end of third grade low-income students meeting ELA standards at a whopping zero percent in the Pleasant Plains district, with Ball Chatham rating at a better but still remarkably poor 27 percent. The non low-income third grade students meeting of ELA standards has its low end at 18 percent in New Berlin, topping out at 53 percent in Pawnee.

 Similarly, the percentage of low-income sixth graders meeting math expectations statewide is reported at 14 percent, with more affluent students coming in at 43 percent, while Sangamon County’s lowest-rated district in this category for low-income students is Williamsville at six percent with Ball Chatham on the high end at 43 percent. The district with the lowest non low-income sixth grade math students is also Williamsville.

Finally, the report breaks down high school graduation rates by ethnicity, with statewide numbers showing 75 percent of African-American students reaching graduation, compared to 81 percent for Hispanic students and 90 percent for white students. In Sangamon County, district graduation rates range from 70 percent for District 186’s African-American students to 86 percent for their counterparts in Ball Chatham. Likewise, Hispanic students fared worst in Distrcit 186 with 75 percent graduating, compared to 87 percent at Ball Chatham. District 186 is seven points below the state average for white graduates at 83 percent, with Williamsville’s white students graduating at an admirable 98 percent.

According to the Voices for Illinois Children website, the organization believes in “focusing on preventing problems by employing comprehensive, well-researched strategies to improve children’s education and health care and to strengthen their families’ economic security and the social services on which they depend.” If nothing else, this most recent report certainly indicates some areas that could use attention.

To view or download a copy of Illinois Kids Count 2017, along with the specific fact sheet on Sangamon County, visit www.voices4kids.org.

Scott Faingold can be reached at sfaingold@illinoistimes.com

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