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Survey of children’s well-being places Florida in the bottom half of states

Students’ math proficiency shows 8% drop since COVID-19


Florida ranked 30th overall in the 2024 Kids Count Data Profile, a survey of well-being by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, with the biggest changes in math and reading scores and child deaths. 

Four categories — economic wellbeing, education, health, and family and community — factor into the ranking, including data on teen birth rates, children living in poverty, single-parent families, and children whose parents lack secure employment. 

The number of eighth grade students not proficient in math in Florida increased from 69% to 77% between 2019 and 2022, a time when the COVID pandemic closed schools and forced distance learning across the country.

In that same period nationally, a similar trend occurred, with a math proficiency increase from 67% to 74%. 

At the same time, Florida fourth graders fared better than the national average in reading proficiency. Fourth graders not proficient in reading dropped by 1 percentage point, from 62% to 61%, in Florida, while nationally their number increased from 66% to 68%. 

States varied on how they delivered instruction during the pandemic; in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis ended classroom instruction between March 2020 and the beginning of the next school year.

The Sunshine State’s best category was education, ranking 5th. The other three categories ranked in the bottom half — 42nd for economic wellbeing, 31st for health, and 30th for family and community. 

Florida high school students who did not graduate on time improved by 3%, with 13% not graduating on time in 2019 compared to 10% in 2021.

Karen Woodall, speaking at a Capitol press conference. Photo via Twitter

Karen Woodall, executive director of the Florida People’s Advocacy Center, said a high education ranking seems inconsistent with the lower rankings in the remaining categories. 

“We rank toward the bottom in those categories, and so it’s kind of interesting to see that we’ve made improvements in education,” Woodall said. “Because usually if the child is struggling with housing and food and poverty and all that, it’s not conducive to them having high scores in education.”

A failure to invest in people-focused infrastructure contributes to Florida’s bottom-half ranking, according to Woodall. 

“We’re not a poor state, we’re not a revenue-poor state,” Woodall said. “Mississippi is a revenue poor state, Florida is not, we just don’t spend the money on our human infrastructure and invest in that capital. When we make strides when there’s some money put in, we’re coming from so far behind that it’s just a drop in the bucket.”

Woodall pointed to an unwillingness to expand Medicaid, attempts to limit access to KidCare coverage, and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ refusal to apply for federal funds to provide summer lunches to children. 

Child deaths

Child and teen deaths in Florida increased between 2019 and 2022, rising from 25 per 100,000 to 30, the same as the national rate. The report found that firearms were the leading cause of death for teenagers and motor vehicle accidents were the leading cause for children. 

Florida’s overall ranking improved one spot, from 31st in the 2023 data profile. New Hampshire ranked the best overall, while New Mexico was ranked the worst. Other southeastern states, including Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi, ranked worse than Florida. 

The nonpartisan Florida Policy Institute responded to the data with a call to maintain motivation in education. 

“With 61% of fourth graders who are not proficient readers and 77% of 8th graders who are not proficient in math, there is so much work to be done and a need for greater investment in education,” Norín Dollard, the Kids Count director at the institute, said in a news release

“The rankings in the other three areas of child well-being, economic (42nd), health (31st), as well as family and community (30th) highlight the fact we need continued attention on Florida’s children and communities,” Dollard said.

The Casey Foundation made recommendations for Florida, including increased investments in public schools and ensuring internet access, places to study, and access to intensive tutoring for students who fall behind. 

Woodall said Florida policy can be “consistently inconsistent with stated goals of improving the lives of our children and families.”

“A lot of times there will be an increase in some service but a contradictory move in an overall general policy. So, increasing funding for mental health but then passing policies that restrict what teachers can use to teach, that go after kids that are transgender, or kids that are LGBTQ. They’re just contradictory,” Woodall said. 

Florida “has never done a very good job of funding health and human services,” she added.

“If we looked back across all of their data books, we would see Florida ranking in the bottom every year on most indicators simply for what I said — we don’t invest in our human infrastructure, our children, our families; we spend money on big tax breaks and development.”

Since 2012 Florida has risen from 34th in education and 39th in health. In 2014, Florida ranked 45th in economic wellbeing and 35th in family and community.

Florida, Florida Education, Child Wellbeing, 2024 Kids Count Data Profile, Florida Phoenix, Why is Florida in the lower half in the Kids Count Date Profile?


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