Foundation study reports Illinois' child well-being varies widely by race

by Terri Dee
Illinois News Connection

A new report looks at children's well-being in every state and finds in Illinois, the outcomes vary greatly depending on race.

In its Race for Results report, the Annie E. Casey Foundation analyzed indicators of child well-being, from early childhood education and reading achievement, to family resources.

One indicator needing attention is fourth-grade reading proficiency. One in three Illinois students is reading at grade level, but only 13% of Black fourth graders.

Katelyn Jones, vice president of policy research and evaluation at YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, explains the need to correct the discrepancy early.

"We know for a fact, based on lots of research, that reading proficiency levels at the fourth grade level are really strong indicators for high school graduation rates, college enrollment, income," Jones outlined. "All of these benchmarks for success later in life."

On the Casey Foundation's scale of 1,000 points, white children got the highest score for well-being in Illinois, at 740 points. Hispanic children saw a score of just over 500 points, and Black children, 341 points. Jones noted parents working long hours and the cost of early childhood education programs are additional factors in the education disparities.

The report suggested expanding the federal Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit could help narrow the gaps for children of color, along with targeted programs and policies. Jones pointed out the need for continued support for early childhood education to help set kids up for success in school. She acknowledged one resource is showing promise to achieve the goal.

"Illinois is doing a pretty good job of that," Jones noted. "The governor's Smart Start Illinois program, as that goes into effect, I'm sure that will work to address many of the challenges."

The Smart Start Illinois program is a multiyear plan to provide every child with access to preschool, increase funding to child care providers and reach more vulnerable families with early support.

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