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Arizona still lags behind country in child wellbeing, education and more

Published: Jun. 28, 2021 at 5:26 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - New data shows Arizona is still behind most states when it comes to child wellbeing. It could be worse after the pandemic, and budget cuts to education may make us slip lower in the rankings.

“Arizona has unfortunately been in the bottom ten of child wellbeing for quite a while now,” said David Lujan, President and CEO of Children’s Action Alliance.

The 2021 Kids Count data book shows Arizona ranks 40th among states for child wellbeing in 2019. The data book also ranked Arizona as one of the worst for children with health insurance. According to the report, nine percent of Arizona children are without health insurance.

It also outlines more than a quarter of kids live in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment in the state. All of these statistics are pre-pandemic and before unemployment and jobless claims skyrocketed.

“Our fear is it will actually get worse once the data comes out how people have fared over the last year,” said Lujan.

This comes as state lawmakers battle over the new budget. The Arizona House of Representatives passed their budget without a private school voucher expansion and a tax break that would chip away at Prop. 208, which helps fund teacher’s pay raises and education. According to the data, in 2019, a fifth of Arizona high school students did not graduate on time, and half of children ages three to four did not attend school—something the American Families Plan could help ease with universal pre-k, according to the Children’s Action Alliance.

“All the research and data show that when children do receive a quality, early childhood education, then that sets them on a positive pas through the rest of their educational journey,” said Lujan.

TUSD is looking to increase their 2022 budget by more than $76 million, providing district wide wage increases, and hiring 20 new counselors and 10 new social workers. This, as the district plans to expand online learning models with their new Virtual Academy, meaning they’ll need to hire more teachers, too.

“We are hiring our teachers virtually, and we are conducting interviews with them and selecting the most highly qualified teachers,” said Flori Huitt, TUSD’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

Increasing online learning may be a way to reach more kids in Southern Arizona. The data shows just more than 30 percent of pre-K aged kids attend school in Pima County, and the four year graduation rate in is just 74%.

TUSD will vote on their new budget next month, while state law makers come to an agreement this week to send the final budget to the governor’s desk.

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