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Kids Count data show issues in area

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Kentucky Youth Advocates release data annually

By Kelly Cantrall

New data on the well-being of children in Kentucky show a growing gap in services for the youngest residents in the area.

Early childhood programs were a disappointing spot for local counties in the most recent Kids Count data released today by Kentucky Youth Advocates. But local districts showed improvement in other areas, including lower suspension rates in Hardin County Schools and an increase in on-time graduation rates in Elizabethtown Independent Schools.

The organization has released updates of the Kids Count data book for 22 years. The project considers multiple measures to update the state on the well-being of its children.

Included in the data are rates of STARS-rated child care providers, the number of subsidies for child care and enrollment in public preschool. Local counties saw declines in all of these areas. Public preschool enrollment from 2007 to 2011 dropped from 24 percent to 20 percent in Hardin County and from 30 percent to 28 percent in LaRue County.

Nannette Johnston, superintendent of Hardin County Schools, said parents of children who are on the cusp of qualifying for preschool services are encouraged to do at-home interventions with their children, whereas in previous years they might have been admitted into a preschool program. However, for her district specifically, there’s been a bump in 2012 preschool enrollment.

The number of child care providers that are STARS-rated, which is a quality rating system, dropped from 24 to 19 in Hardin County and from seven to five in LaRue County between 2007 and 2012. The number of families receiving child care subsidies also dropped in both counties, from 2,724 to 2,404 in Hardin and 347 to 273 in LaRue between fiscal year 2007 and 2012.

Kathy King, director of Community Coordinated Child Care in the Lincoln Trail area, said the Hardin and LaRue areas have lost a number of child care providers in recent years because of the economy. While not all of them were STARS-rated, some were, she said.

King also said achieving a STARS rating is expensive, and because the program is voluntary, some child care directors might choose not to pursue a rating in lieu of other needs.

“Like every business, they just have to make some choices,” she said.

In terms of children receiving child care subsidies, she hoped it was because of more families not needing the assistance, but said some of the guidelines to qualify for a subsidy have become harder to meet. For instance, a parent who is enrolled in school no longer can just be a student to qualify, but also must work 20 hours a week.

The economy also could play a part in that, King said. Some parents who have become unemployed have pulled their children out of child care and no longer need the subsidy.

Hardin County Schools saw an increase in spending per pupil and the number of students graduating on time, as well as a 38 percent drop in suspension rates.

Johnston said suspension rates, which decreased from 13 per 100 students in 2006-2007 to 6.7 per 100 students in 2011-2012, has become a focus for the district. She expects to see the drop continue, as schools assist students who are struggling academically, making them less likely to have behavioral issues.

Also, the district has been working to address students’ issues at school, instead of sending them home where they might be unsupervised and miss out academically.

Elizabethtown Independent Schools saw an increase in students who receive free or reduced-price lunch, as well as a 10 percent increase from 2008-2009 to 2010-2011 in students who have missed 10 percent or more of school days in a year.

Nathan Huggins, assistant superintendent for student and district support services, said the district’s new graduation assistance coordinator positions address attendance issues. Huggins credited the coordinators with the district’s 19 percent increase in on-time graduations between 2007-2008 and 2010-2011.

West Point Independent School also saw an increase in students who receive free or reduced price lunch and absenteeism, and a 10 percent drop from 2005 to 2010 in students with disabilities.

LaRue County Schools saw a decrease in free or reduced price lunch numbers and suspension rates, and an increase in on-time graduation.

Both counties also had a drop in the percentage of births to mothers without a high school diploma, from 14 percent to 12 percent between 2004 and 2009 in Hardin County, and 22 percent to 19 percent in LaRue County during the same timeframe.

Kelly Cantrall can be reached at (270) 505-1747 or kcantrall@thenewsenterprise.com.