Child Spending Low, Education Low, Child Abuse And Neglect High

BOISE, IDAHO (April 19, 1998) Idaho is a large state in some ways but small in others. Idaho is 13th among the 50 states of the United States in area but only 40th in population (1.2 million).

Nestled just inland from the Pacific Northwest, Idaho contains some of the most isolated and rugged country in the U.S. And there is a sense of isolation and rugged self- reliance in Idaho that goes with the countryside.

Idaho is perhaps one of the states least likely to find itself featured in a story on the front page of The New York Times. But this week that's where Idahoans could read the words of reporter Timothy Egan stating: "Some social historians say Idaho is in danger of becoming another Mississippi, which consistently ranks near the bottom of states in spending for children, education and the poor."

In this decade Idaho has become one of the leaders in the social revolution >in progress in the United States. While U.S. welfare rolls declined an average of 31% from 1993-1997, Idaho slashed its welfare rolls by 77%, the steepest cut in the nation.

Children have not been overlooked. Spending for child welfare is low in Idaho. Excluding Medicaid, the highest three states in 1996 in per capita state spending for child welfare were New York ($99.30), Vermont ($93.54) and Illinois ($91.99). The three lowest states were Hawaii ($20.10), and Idaho ($17.00) trailed only by S. Dakota ($15.12).

Too many numbers can dull the senses. So what if Idaho only spends $17 per person on child welfare! Well, by comparison, Idaho spends five times that amount on each prisoner in its jails (which are filling up "at an exceedingly high rate").

Phil Batt, the Governor of Idaho, "says he is perplexed ... by recent studies that show reading levels falling for grade school pupils." One study financed by the state of Idaho showed nearly 60% of fourth graders (around 9 years of age) were reading at a level below their grade. This was consternating news for parents and teachers in Idaho. (Idaho teachers in 1995-96 ranked 41st in average teacher salary among the 50 states).

Another Idaho study "echoed national studies in establishing a direct link between failing grades for poor children by the fourth grade and the likelihood that the children will commit crimes as a juvenile or young adult."

Reported child abuse is high in Idaho. (Although the legal definitions of child abuse and neglect vary from state to state, physicians and other providers of child care in all 50 states in the U.S. are required by law to report suspected child abuse and neglect).

The three states with the highest number of children reported as abused or neglected in 1995 were North Carolina (64.0), Missouri (70.1) and, far above them, Idaho with 112.4 children reported as abused or neglected per thousand children. The risk of a child being abused or neglected in Idaho was greater than 1 in 10.

Earlier in 1998, the Idaho Legislature rejected Federal funds that woul

d have provided health insurance to over 10,000 poor children in Idaho at a minor cost to the state. Following a public furor and lobbying by Gov. Batt, some but not all of the Federal funds were restored. The Times observed that: "State budget writers said they did not want to become dependent on Federal largess."

To summarize the facts of the situation, child spending is low, educational achievement is low, and child abuse and neglect are high in Idaho.

We have focused here on Idaho, not to demean Idaho (the authors of this article have had a home there and love Idaho), but to highlight the social and economic choices that face all states in the United States today and, for that matter, all countries and the possible consequences of these choices for the education and health of children.

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Reviewed on 4/1/2002

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