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Colorado drops two spots to 17th nationally for child wellness

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Eric Galatas

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(Colorado News Connection) Colorado lost ground - dropping from 15th to 17th overall - in this year's Kids Count Data Book by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which ranks states for child well-being.

Madeleine Ashour, youth success director with the Colorado Children's Campaign, said before the pandemic, just 16 percent of Colorado students were chronically absent from school. But that rate jumped to 30 percent by 2022. She said that's a lot different from "Ferris Bueller days," when two absences meant a visit to the principal's office.

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"They are missing 10 percent or more of the academic school year," she explained. "Missing that amount of school has really serious long term effects on learning, especially in the younger grades."

In 2022, 72 percent of Colorado students had below proficient math scores, up from 63 percent in 2019. Reading scores also dropped by 3 percent. Ashour says Colorado can do more to prepare kids to enter the workforce as adults by using unspent pandemic funding to expand access to intensive tutoring.

Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said compared to peer nations, the U.S. is not giving kids the high-level reading, math and digital problem-solving skills needed for many of today's fastest-growing occupations in a competitive global economy.

"Our economy is propelled by a prepared workforce. 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," Boissiere explained.

Ashour noted Colorado lawmakers have taken steps to address the most fundamental aspect of children's well being - the more than one in ten children currently living in poverty - by passing the Family Affordability Tax Credit, which prioritizes low-income families with young children.

"So, when combined with the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, those three tax credits have the potential to cut Colorado's child poverty rate in half, and make it potentially the lowest in the country," she continued.