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Report: Kentucky faces education crisis

Kid sitting at kitchen table with a tutor having difficulties in learning.
DimaBerlin - stock.adobe.com
Kid sitting at kitchen table with tutor having difficulties in learning.

New data shows most Kentucky kids are not academically prepared for a successful future.

The latest Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that in 2022, 79% of the state's eighth graders were behind in math, and 69% of fourth graders were behind in reading.

The number of young children not in school has also risen.

Terry Brooks, Ph.D - executive director of the Kentucky Youth Advocates - said lawmakers and community leaders need to pay attention to, and get involved in, remedying what he calls an education crisis.

"Thirty-four years ago I was a principal," said Brooks, "and I remembered when public education was a common bond. Today, public education is the most divisive policy arena in Frankfort."

Federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief grants - which expire this fall - have been used by districts to support digital learning, and pay school counselors, mental health professionals, and hire more staff.

Kentucky has received a total of $2 billion in federal funds.

Leslie Boissiere - vice president for external affairs for the Casey Foundation - said that compared with peer countries, the U.S. is not equipping its children with the problem-solving skills future employers will need.

"Our economy is propelled by a prepared workforce," said Boissiere. "And so, in order for our economy to work well, it's important that we prepare young people with the skills that they need - so that they are entering the workforce prepared."

Brooks said poverty, physical and mental health, childhood trauma, and other factors, impact a student's ability to enter a classroom free from distractions and ready to learn - particularly among students of color, and kids in immigrant families and low-income families.

"Do young people have food security and stable housing?" said Brooks. "Do they have wrap around supports for their behavioral and mental health? As important as classroom pedagogy and methods and curriculum are, those non-cognitive factors actually are even more important. "

Advocates say policies such as increasing access to low- or no-cost school meals, expanding access to reliable internet, tutoring, and other community supports can better help kids who have fallen behind.

Nadia Ramlagan covers the Southeastern and Appalachian region for Public News Service (Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee), and co-produces 2022Talks, a national newscast tracking U.S. politics and elections.
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