Armed with facts, officials ready to fight for kids
All four members of Rhode Island’s Congressional Delegation, Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed, Warwick Representative Joseph McNamara and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian spoke of the importance of the 19th annual Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Factbook, which was released yesterday during an annual policy breakfast.
The annual report , which charts improvements and declines in the well-being of children and youth across the state and in each of Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns, provides data on 68 different aspects of life in five categories: family and community, economic well-being, health, safety and education.
Every attendee received a copy of the 186-page report filled with data ranging from graduation rates to teen pregnancy to child abuse victims. There is even data regarding the percentage of newborns that are exclusively breastfed (64 percent in Warwick, 61 percent statewide).
While combing through all of the data may take time, members of the Congressional Delegation said the Factbook is a useful tool when drafting and advocating for legislation.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse says the data will be a great help in his work with the federal budget.
“As you go through the Factbook, you will be hardpressed to find one issue affecting children that does not lead back to the federal budget,” said Whitehouse after he accepted his copy of the report from Rhode Island KIDS COUNT executive director Elizabeth Burke Bryant.
Whitehouse hopes the data can be used to ensure the federal budget does not cater to the wealthiest Americans.
He said $2.6 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years has already been approved, however, Congress still needs to ensure money is not escaping through what Whitehouse called “the back door of the tax code.”
Whitehouse argued if nothing were done to close it, $11 trillion would go out that door in the next 10 years. Factoring in inflation, that number would jump to $14 trillion, and up to $17 million to $18 trillion if one counts money kept offshore.
“Don’t tell me we can’t take 5 percent of that to prevent cuts to our children,” urged Whitehouse.
Congressman David Cicilline echoed Whitehouse’s concerns for the federal budget.
“This budget reflects very badly on children and family,” said Cicilline.
“Children are going to be directly affected; we’ve got to do better for our kids,” said Congressman Jim Langevin in his remarks to the crowd. He added that it is a “challenging time to be in Washington,” but providing for the nation’s children is a priority.
“We have two great battles in front of us,” said Senior Senator Jack Reed, referencing issues of undocumented children being denied opportunities in education and the safety of children. He said, “We need sensible gun legislation.”
Referencing a story from keynote speaker Teny O. Gross about a talented young musician killed due to his involvement with gangs, Reed argued that children needed to be shown another path.
“The only route they see is through gangs and through drugs. We need to give them a better way,” said Reed.
Paiva-Weed and McNamara both said the Factbook is a valuable resource for state legislators as well.
“We depend very much on this Factbook,” said Paiva-Weed. “We very often look to facts in this book to guide us to where we need to direct resources.”
McNamara explained that the Factbook is useful because of the data it supplies.
“We want to make sure when we get on the floor that we can say we looked up [the data] in the Factbook,” said McNamara.
The representative hoped the data would allow state legislators to provide for Rhode Islanders’ visions and dreams.
“If we build policy based on actual data, those dreams will come true,” said McNamara.
Specifically, McNamara said this year’s report would be helpful when looking at issues of child obesity and nutrition education. He said the General Assembly would also use the data to evaluate poverty levels, gaps in health care, school safety and more.
In Warwick, Avedisian said previous Factbooks have provided that extra push to provide resources for the city. Data from previous editions have led to the creation of health and dental centers, and led to the push for fitness and exercise in schools.
“Elizabeth gives us the ammunition to get stuff done,” said Avedisian.
While accepting his copy of the Factbook, Avedisian referenced many positive changes in data over the years, including a decreased teen birth rate, a decline in child obesity and a rise in literacy.
“We still have a tremendous amount of work to do,” said Avedisian.
KIDS COUNT was able to provide individual statistics for the city of Warwick. In many cases, Warwick was better off when it came to issues affecting the state.
One of these is the teen birth rate. In Warwick, only 20.1 out of 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 have babies versus 25.5 statewide.
In the safety category, only 7.5 out of 1,000 children are victims of child abuse or neglect in Warwick compared to 13.9 in the state.
Also in terms of child safety, 7 out of 1,000 children have parents who are incarcerated; statewide average is 11 out of 1,000.
The Factbook also shows that 2,627 Warwick children out of 64,866 statewide are part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Education was one of the largest topics of the morning event, because many felt the key to successful children was providing proper education.
There are 47 pages of data relating to Rhode Island children and education alone in the Factbook. Some of the highlights of education in Warwick are as follows:
• 21 percent of Warwick students are enrolled in special education programs in the city as opposed to the state average of 18 percent.
• 78 percent of Warwick fourth graders and 80 percent of Warwick eighth graders are at or above reading level. Both are higher than statewide levels, 69 percent and 77 percent respectively.
• 70 percent of fourth graders are at or above proficiency in math. Statewide, the level is 64 percent.
• 57 percent of Warwick eighth graders are at or above proficiency in math, while statewide is 58 percent.
• 28 percent of Warwick 11th graders are at or above proficiency in math compared to 34 percent of 11th graders statewide.
• Warwick high schools have a higher attendance rate of 92 percent compared to 91 percent for the state.
• Only 15 out of 100 students are suspended in Warwick, while 30 out of 100 are suspended statewide.
• Warwick has a graduation rate of 79 percent, compared to the state’s 77 percent.