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Preschool Attendance Up in Latest Index of Child Well-Being

More 3- and 4-year olds are enrolled in preschool, one of several positive indicators of child well-being catalogued by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in its 2013 KIDS COUNT data book.

The report covers four categories—economic well-being, education, health and family and community—each with four indicators. In addition to offering a national perspective, the report also measures child well-being by state. The preschool enrollment figure is one of the education indicators, along with percentage of fourth graders not proficient in reading, percentage of eighth graders not proficient in math, and percentage of high school students not graduating on time. (The other categories and indicators are listed here.)

The report says that from 2009-11, 54 percent of children ages 3 and 4 were not enrolled in preschool. However, that's an improvement from 2005-2007, when 56 percent were not enrolled. The change represents about 400,000 children.

In 2011, New Jersey had the lowest percentage of preschoolers who were not enrolled in an early education program, at 38 percent. Nevada, at 70 percent, had the highest percentage of preschoolers not enrolled. (An aside: Nevada is one of six states chosen to be a part of an early childhood "policy academy" sponsored by the National Governors Association.)

Half of black and white young children were not in pre-K programs, and the percentage was nearly the same for Asian children, at 48 percent. Sixty-three percent of Hispanic children were not enrolled in preschool programs, along with 58 percent of American Indian children.

The preschool enrollment rate was one bright spot, but the report notes that childhood poverty rates remain "troubling." The child poverty rate increased to 23 percent in 2011, the report said. For children under 3 years old, the poverty rate was 26 percent. Poverty, in the report, is defined as income below $22,811 for a family of two adults and two children in 2011. My colleague, Nirvi Shah, has examined the economic indicators more closely in her blog, Rules For Engagement.

Putting all the indicators together, the best place to be a child, according to the report, is New Hampshire, Vermont or Massachusetts. The lowest-ranked states were Nevada, Mississippi, and in last place, New Mexico.

The Kids Count data center includes a wealth of additional information, including how the foundation gathered information on the other indicators, and individual state assessments.

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