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Report: Arizona ranks poorly in educational, economic outcomes for kids

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PHOENIX – Arizona ranks poorly in educational and economic outcomes for kids, especially Latino and American Indian children, according to a national report released Tuesday.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation analyzed 12 areas, including early childhood education rates, proficiency in math and reading, college degree rates, poverty levels and high school graduation rates, among others.

The report ranked each racial and ethnic group on a scale of 0 to 1,000, with higher scores representing a greater likelihood for children within that group to reach health and education milestones.

Asian and Pacific islander children ranked highest in the state with an overall score of 744, compared to a score of 677 for whites, 401 for African-Americans, 356 for Latinos and 282 for American Indians.

“Arizona is struggling in overall child well-being,” said Joshua Oehler, a research associate at the Children’s Action Alliance, a Valley nonprofit that partners with the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “We’re not at the top of the list in any of these scores for any racial groups. We have a lot of ground to make up for all our children.”

Joseph Garcia, director of the Latino Public Policy Center at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, said the findings aren’t surprising.

“They just reaffirmed what we already know,” Garcia said. “How many times do you sound the alarm before you respond to the fire?”

But it’s not just Latinos who are affected by low graduation rates – it’s the state overall, Garcia said.

“We can’t separate Arizona issues from Latino issues. They’re one and the same,” he said. “When we’re talking about Latinos at risk and performing poorly, we’re talking about Arizona in general that’s suffering.”

Everyone’s quality of life could be harmed if these issues aren’t addressed, said Pearl Chang Esau, director and CEO of Expect More Arizona, a statewide education advocacy group.

“We need Arizonans to respond with a huge sense of urgency,” she said. “We can see what’s coming down the train tracks here.”

Garcia said the stakes are high for improving these outcomes for Arizona’s children because their success is directly related to the health of the state’s economy.

“If nothing is changed, Arizona’s median income drops as a state just because of the large number of the Latino population,” he said. “Everyone feels the impact. If you’re selling refrigerators or cars or carpet, if people don’t have the money to buy it, you can see how business would be affected.”

According to the 2010 census, 43.2 percent of Arizona children under 18 were Hispanic, surpassing the 41.6 percent who were white.

Chris Kotterman, deputy director for government relations at the Arizona Department of Education, said the state needs to confront the problem before matters get worse.

“We’re looking more at a problem of socioeconomic status than we are at discrimination,” Kotterman said. “There’s no systemic issue that would indicate that Arizona schools aren’t interested in serving Latino students. It’s mostly economics.”

Kotterman said one way to improve education and success levels for minority children lies in attracting good teachers and paying them well.

“The No.1 issue that we have in terms of improving educational outcomes is we’re hemorrhaging talent,” he said.

Oehler said the Children’s Action Alliance will use the data collected in the report and work to collect more local data in order to find solutions.

“It can be a divisive thing and we want to use it as a unifying thing,” he said. “Arizona only does as well as all of our children do. We want to create paths of opportunity for all kids here.”