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Last week, the latest Leandro hearing was held in Wake County. The purpose was to review the state of North Carolina’s plan to “correct the educational deficiencies in the student population” and to determine if the state was meeting its “fundamental constitutional obligations” to guarantee “every child of this state an opportunity to receive a sound basic education in our public schools.”

The economic well-being of our children

The same week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its 2015 KIDS COUNT Data Book.  Here is where North Carolina stands this year:

On three of the four indicators for economic well-being North Carolina has worsened since 2008:

One in four children now live in poverty 

One in three children live in a family with parents who lack secure employment

Nine percent of our teens are not in school and not working

NC Child is the North Carolina grantee of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

According to NC Child, “The percent of North Carolina children living in high poverty communities (14 percent) has grown 56 percent since 2006-10—twice as fast as the national average.”

Rob Thompson, the policy director for NC Child, provided an upbeat take on some factors. “We’ve actually made substantial progress particularly with regards to children’s health,” he said. “Ninety-four percent of children have health insurance, an all-time high; the teen pregnancy rate has dropped dramatically; youth smoking has also declined significantly.” 

The report also underscores modest education gains in fourth grade proficiency in both reading and math. Our state improved from 71 percent of fourth graders not proficient in reading to 65 percent, and from 66 percent of fourth graders not proficient in math to 64 percent. More high schoolers are graduating on time. However, 58 percent of children age-eligible for preschool are not attending at this time.

Some gains, some losses.  Progress, with some sobering reminders of the work left to do.

Child hunger

During the Leandro hearing, Lynn Harvey, the Director of School Nutrition Services at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, took the stand. She spoke of changes in nutrition and the solutions that her department is working to implement daily.

Harvey also testified about child hunger. She said, “We are extremely concerned about what we consider a crisis in our state. And that is a crisis around child hunger. Nearly 60 percent of our students are from economically disadvantaged households… If we look at national statistics we see that 22 percent of all students come from food insecure households, these are households in which the supply of food is inadequate, and as a result, children experience significant and often chronic hunger. And while that statistic is problematic, 22 percent nationally, 27 percent is shameful in North Carolina. As 27 percent of our children struggle with hunger… There is no good excuse for that.” 

“Shameful,” she said.

“No good excuse,” she said.

Harvey also testified that a hungry child is not going to learn as well as a well-fed child.

We know that solutions and funding exist for this issue. No Kid Hungry works to educate school districts statewide on how to provide alternative breakfast and summer meal programs.

Data-driven solutions

Going forward, Rob Thompson says,

“All of these gains can be traced back to good public policy decisions and investments in data-driven interventions, which means that if we want to continue down the path of progress, we need to keep implementing data-driven policies and budget decisions that support children and families. 

As we move forward with tackling the issues of childhood hunger and poverty, we must learn from what works — sound policy decisions, investments in data-driven interventions, and living up to our constitutional requirement to provide a sound, basic education in our public schools.

Awareness of the problems, and the solutions, may be our biggest issue. At EdNC, we plan to change that.

 

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the director of growth for EducationNC.