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By Chris Fitzsimon

Greensboro News & Record

The annual Kids Count survey by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that tracks child welfare in states was released last week and couldn’t have come at a better time, as North Carolina legislators are putting together a final state budget and setting priorities for public investments.

North Carolina ranked 35th overall in child well-being, and the number of children living in poverty has increased 25 percent since 2008, with 566,000 kids in families with incomes below the poverty line, $24,250 for a family of four.

Other indicators of how children are doing were a mixed bag and included slight improvements in health care and education measures like high school graduation. But news that more kids are living in low-income families ought to set off alarm bells at the General Assembly.

North Carolina ranks 11th in its child poverty rate, tied with Kentucky and Texas. And the report finds that 32 percent of children have parents who lack secure employment. The alleged “Carolina Comeback” hasn’t made it to hundreds of thousands of homes.

Laila Bell of NC Child cited the Great Recession as part of the problem but also correctly pointed to decisions made by state policymakers that have made things worse, like the elimination of the state earned income tax credit for low-wage workers. Then there are the long waiting lists for NC PreK for at-risk kids, the change in eligibility for child care subsidies that kicked thousands of kids out of quality day care, leaving their parents unable to work or go to school to learn new skills. There are the reduced benefits for laid-off workers unable to find a job, and maybe most glaringly, the refusal to expand Medicaid and provide health care for 500,000 low-income adults.

The report includes a section on family and community indicators, a reminder of something that too many lawmakers who claim to care about children forget, that children are part of families; helping parents with education, health care and other supports helps their children, too. Raising the minimum wage would help North Carolina’s children. So would requiring paid leave so that staying home with a child with the flu doesn’t mean a loss of several days’ pay.

There’s simply no reason to have a waiting list for NC PreK, a program that studies have shown improves the academic achievement of at-risk children.

Both the N.C. House and Senate budgets instead include more tax cuts, with the Senate plan costing more than a billion dollars when it is fully implemented. That’s more than enough not only to eliminate waiting lists for PreK and restore child care subsidies, but to keep teaching assistants and give teachers a raise.

Source: Kids at Risk 072615 Ideas.

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