LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - One in four Kentucky children live in poverty, and the number is rising.
The 2012 County Data Book released today by Kentucky Youth Advocates paints a picture of the path that Kentucky students follow starting from birth to the transition to adulthood based on educational outcomes at each of those stages.
This is the 22nd annual release of the County Data Book, part of the Kentucky KIDS COUNT project. The KIDS COUNT project monitors progress for Kentucky's one million children on over 100 measures of child well-being, including health, safety, economic well-being, and education. This year's book focuses on key state, county, and district-level measures of education.
Kids Count defines poverty as a family of two adults and two children whose annual income falls below $22,113.
The report says more than 240,000 children are living in poverty across the commonwealth.
Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said poverty is an endemic problem in Kentucky, but the recession has made it worse.
Overall, Kentucky was ranked 35th in the country for child well-being.
The annual report is a joint project of Kentucky Youth Advocates and the Kentucky State Data Center at the University of Louisville.
An opening essay offers recommendations to build on recent improvements to Kentucky's alternative education programs in order to create and sustain a high-quality learning environment so all students can succeed.
By estimates, alternative schools serve more than 45,000 Kentucky youth over a school year. While some programs excel there is still room for improvement to ensure that all alternative schools have a high level of rigor and standards.
"Alternative education programs serve students who do not thrive in traditional classrooms, and are at-risk of dropping out," said Brooks. "They play a critical role because they can provide an alternative path in which students can excel and become contributing members of society."
"Like their peers in traditional schools, educators in alternative schools need stronger and richer professional learning opportunities that are customized to the students they serve, " said Leon Mooneyhan, CEO of the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative. "We are working to expand our regional network of alternative school administrators statewide in order to highlight best practices and raise quality of alternative programs."
Indicators featured in the book portray everything from early childhood care to college readiness, from school staffing and finance to disciplinary actions, and from student demographics to subject specific scores.
For the first time, the data book includes information on students with disabilities enrolled in Kentucky public schools. For children with disabilities, the identification of the disability and access to appropriate resources are critical.
Over 100,000 students, or 15.1 percent of Kentucky students ages 3 - 21, currently receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Another 1 percent of students are signed up for education accomodations, known as 504 plans.
In Kentucky, most children served under IDEA have a speech or language impairment, followed by developmental delay, other health impairment, and specific learning disability.
"It's especially timely for us to focus attention on our population of students with disabilities, in light of reports that they are disproportionately at risk of being subject to the use of restraint and seclusion in schools - a practice that is not only ineffective, but potentially life threatening," said Brooks. "The Kentucky Department of Education's recent step to limit the use of restraint and seclusion in schools is a huge step forward."
Research shows that investments in early childhood programs yield greater returns than many publically-funded economic development projects.
In Kentucky, Head Start and the Kentucky Preschool Program help children from low-income families and children with disbilities build a strong foundation for future learning. Some 31 percent of all 3- and 4-year olds in Kentucky were enrolled in publically-funded preschools in December 2011.
"Everyone benefits when young children have access to high-quality learning programs," said Stu Silberman, executive director of the Prichard Committee. "Kentucky can strengthen our efforts by promoting local collaboration between school districts, Head Start, and child care providers to deliver preschool serves. It would save money, improve the overall quality of child care, and reduce the amount of time young children spend in transit to school sites out of their neighborhoods."
In school year 2011, 77.8 percent of Kentucky students graduated within four years of entering high school.
"With the growing demand for a highly educated workforce, we need to make sure that there are rigorous educational opportunities for all students," said Brooks. "For students who are struggling, high-quality alternative education programs and accelerated learning opportunities can provide the supports students need to get back on track and graduate on time."