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WI makes the grade for child well-being, but education woes, disparities stick out

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An annual report suggests Wisconsin has a strong foundation in creating positive outcomes for kids. But low-test scores and racial disparities show not all youth are faring well.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation's latest Kids Count Data Book ranks Wisconsin 11th in the country for child well-being.

The state saw a slight dip in its child poverty rate, falling to 13%.

However, Emily Miota - communications director of the statewide policy group Kids Forward - said the positive results mask persistent disparities for the Badger State.

"Wisconsin," said Miota, "remains the worst state in the nation for Black children and families."

For example, Black children were 29 times more likely to live in high-poverty areas than white children.

Those disparities also spill over into education. And overall test scores show 68% of fourth graders not proficient in reading, mirroring national trends.

Kids Forward calls on state leaders to dig deeper in boosting public school funding and focus on hiring and retaining Black teachers.

The report contends that the pandemic is not solely to blame for the country's worsening educational
outcomes.

The Casey Foundation's Vice President of External Affairs Leslie Boissiere said educators, researchers, policymakers, and employers who track students' academic readiness have been ringing alarm bells for a long time.

"For example, the pandemic erased decades of increases in math scores," said Boissiere. "However, if you look over those 35 years that we've produced the Data Book, we've never seen a significant percentage of children who were either proficient in fourth grade reading or basic math."

The report calls on all states to expand access to intensive tutoring for students who are behind in their classes and missing academic milestones.

For addressing chronic absenteeism, the authors say lawmakers should embrace positive approaches rather than criminalizing students or parents due to attendance challenges.

Wisconsin did see a worsening rate of young children not attending school.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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