Nearly 2 in 3 Montezuma County children under the age of 6 reside in homes that face financial hardships.
While only about a third of Montezuma County children live below the federal poverty level, formulated using 1960s calculations, the number of children living in homes without self-sufficient incomes is nearly double, said Bill Jaeger, vice-president of Early Childhood Initiatives for the Colorado Children’s Campaign, author of the Kids Count report.
The federal poverty level for a family of four is set at $23,850 in Montezuma County. But the true cost of living, described as a self-efficient income, for a family of four is $55,956.
According to Jaeger, 55 percent of Montezuma County children under the age of 18 reside in homes that don’t receive a self-efficient income. For children 6 and under, the rate spikes to 60 percent, Jaeger said.
At a recent community luncheon, about three dozen area educators, social workers and child advocates convened to obtain insight and analysis into the 2015 Kids Count report, which includes a child well-being index for the 25 most populated counties in Colorado. Montezuma County was last among the counties surveyed. In comparison, La Plata County ranked 11th.
The Kids Count report measures 12 aspects related to children’s health, education and family and community support.
“Every data point reflects an actual child and a family,” said Jaeger.
Health indicators include teen births, low birth weights, infant mortality, uninsured children and obesity.
Analyzing the data, Montezuma County Public Health Director Bobbi Lock praised gains made in regard to teen birth rates, for example, which dropped from 52 per 1,000 in 2013 to 45 per 1000 in 2014. She was also happy to discover that child obesity levels had dipped from 31 to 27 percent.
However, Lock added that the county, in regard to children’s health, continued to face uphill battles. For example, she pointed out that low-weight newborns had increased from 6 to 10 percent from 2013 to 2014.
“The child well-being index for uninsured children in Colorado counties was also disappointing – since it was 13.7 percent and is now 19.9 percent – making us tied with La Plata County for the counties with the highest uninsured rate for children in the state,” said Lock.
Another area of concern for Lock was the number of women that reported smoking during pregnancy – 15.5 percent in Montezuma County. In comparison, only about 7 percent of pregnant women across Colorado reported smoking while pregnant.
To combat the problem, Lock said the county had launched its “Baby and Me, Tobacco Free” program, designed to educate and coach women who are eager to quit smoking while pregnant. The program includes an incentive, making free diapers available for one year if the woman quits smoking.
Regarding education, the Kids Count report measures kindergartners in full-day programs, English language learners, high school graduation rates and proficiency levels in reading, math, writing, science and social studies.
Asked to identify what aspect of the Kids Count report he found troublesome, Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 Superintendent Alex Carter quickly pointed to the continued downward trend in per-pupil spending in Colorado versus the national average. In 2001, Colorado’s per-pupil funding was $714 below the national average. By 2012, the gap had widened to more than $2,700.
“I know it seems that school leaders are always complaining about the lack of adequate funding for our public schools, but the fact of the matter is that Colorado is going to have to accept that you get what you pay for,” he said.
Because of funding disparities, Carter said it was impossible for schools to offer educational programs to prepare students for the competitive global marketplace. He added that the funding woes were further exacerbated at the local level. “Many students in our community, which, as the report so clearly points out, are the ones in the greatest need of intensive services to help counterbalance the pervasive effect of poverty,” said Carter. “Without appropriate funding, it is likely that the other disparities and concerns for our community that are outlined in the report will persist.”
Re-1 board member Jack Schuenemeyer, who also attended the Kids Count luncheon, piggy-backed on Carter’s assessment, stating the country’s widening income inequality gap was linked to education. He added students that were ill prepared academically typically landed lower paying jobs.
“Are we as a society, satisfied to have only children who reside in the wealthiest school district be fully prepared for the 21st century?” Schuenemeyer said. “Looking at the history of science strongly suggests than many important innovations were made by children of the poor and middle class who had opportunities for a quality education.”
State Sen. Ellen Roberts and State Rep. Don Coram were both invited to last week’s Kids Count luncheon in Cortez. Neither attended, but Jaeger applauded both as strong child advocates.
To view the entire 2015 Kids Count report, click http://bit.ly/COkids2015.