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Graduation rates are up, teen births are down and the percentage of children with health insurance coverage has increased in recent years, according to a new report from KIDS COUNT, a project of the nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation, which collects data on children from every state. But there are still several health, economic and academic factors that have kept Mississippi at the bottom of rankings when it comes to overall child well-being. And if the state wants to rise in the Southeast rankings, the report suggests several areas that should be targeted first:

Credit: Credit: Annie E. Casey Foundation
  • Thirty-six percent of children in Mississippi have parents who lack secure employment. North Carolina has the lowest percentage in the Southeast, at 30 percent. Research shows parental unemployment can contribute to behavior issues and low academic performance.
  • More than 11 percent of Mississippi babies are born with a low birth weight, which may lead to more health issues down the road, such as diabetes and obesity. Florida leads the region with the lowest percentage at 8.7 percent.
  • Despite Mississippi’s push to make sure all students are reading on grade level by third grade, 74 percent of fourth graders in Mississippi scored below proficient on state exams in 2015. Kentucky had the lowest rate in the Southeast, at 60 percent.

The report also highlighted some areas that are persistent challenges for the state, many of which have not received as much attention as other education issues. Here are some data points that are particularly notable due to their impact on child well-being and academic achievement:

  • During the 2014-15 school year, nearly 10 percent of the state’s K-3 students and more than 13 percent of all students were chronically absent. The report defines that as students who miss 10 percent of the year, or about 18 days out of a 180-day school year. A 2014 Hechinger Report article found kindergarteners have the lowest average daily attendance rate of any K-8 grade, which can lead to students falling behind and repeating grades and can have financial consequences for districts when funding is tied to attendance. Natchez-Adams and Hazlehurst City school districts have the highest absentee rates, at more than 18 percent, while Hollandale and South Delta had the lowest rates, at less than 3 percent.
  • More than 27 percent of children in Mississippi are “food insecure,” which is defined by the USDA as lacking access at times “to enough food for an active, healthy life” as well as “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.” Food insecurity can impact a child’s health as well as their ability to focus and learn at school.

You can check out data on many of these indicators by county, school district and ZIP  code here.

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