Solano officials disagree with state's report on kids' well-being

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

FAIRFIELD - In a report released by Children Now regarding the health and well-being of children in California, the state received low scores as Solano County numbers followed close behind.

According to New Children Now Report Card, "The State of the State's Children," the future of California children could be jeopardized if changes are not made, which could compromise public health and the economy.

"The report provides a reality check of things that have to be done. We've made progress but it shows that kids are not doing as well in California to be successful. If we don't make significant policy changes, the result will be with us for years to come as kids are not prepared to enter the workforce," said Theresa Garcia, vice president of California Policy for Children Now.

The state, which has 27 percent of children ages 0-17, ranked a B- for health insurance; a D+ in obesity; a C- for K-12 education; and a D+ in family well-being.

Although Solano County scored low in three categories of the report, including obesity (74 percent of students failed to meet state standards for all-around physical fitness in 2006), academic achievement (more than 55 percent of students failed to meet goals for proficiency in Math and English Language Arts) and economic well-being (31 percent of households are economically struggling), health insurance numbers ranked high with 97 percent of children in Solano County insured. But it's a figure that could fluctuate if the state fails to provide assistance.
"Through strong community collaboration, we've done a pretty good job in the county, I'd give us an A-, but that's balanced with how long we can sustain it," said Jacque McLaughlin, director of the Solano Kids Health Insurance Program, a program of the Solano Coalition for Better Health.

"It looks like we have funds to support the Healthy Kids program through 2007 and have some funding for 2008, but not enough to support the current enrollment level. We need the state's help," she added.

Healthy Kids Solano, introduced in 2005 by the Solano Coalition to cover all kids, is a locally developed and funded program that provides comprehensive health coverage for uninsured children of low income families who don't qualify for public programs, such as Medi-Cal and Healthy Families.

On Monday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to propose a plan during a speech outlining his health care agenda for 2007 that will include provisions to extend coverage to all California children. Currently, there are more than 760,000 California children under 18 without health insurance.

But not everyone is convinced of these numbers. Tam Stevenson, senior research analyst at Children's Network, feels the annual report card is deceptive given that California is a large state, with 58 counties that differ significantly from one another.

"You're comparing Los Angeles to Solano County to Alpine. You can't say this is a picture of my county - only of the state," she said, but added there are several concerns in the county that should be addressed.

"We do have a problem with childhood asthma, sexually transmitted diseases and the drop-out rate in education is rising, which could be problematic," she said.

Yet, there is also a significant problem with obesity, Stevenson added, which correlates with poverty.

"Fast food is cheap and they're in many of the neighborhoods where poverty is entrenched," she said. "If you have two parents working in the home there isn't time to cook."

Nola Lionberger, public information officer for Solano County Office of Education, also disagrees with the way numbers were presented in the report and has seen improvements in student grades over the past years, a trend that is not reflected in the report card.

"In 2003, 37.5 percent of Solano student scored proficient or advanced in English Language Arts. In 2006, that figure went up to 43.6 percent," she said. "It's the same in Math, where in 2003, 27.1 percent of students scored proficient or advance and in 2006, that number rose to 49.3 percent.

"It's all on how you look at it. I think public schools are working hard to get grades up and they're going up," she continued. "We are doing something right. It's a huge ship here and we are turning it around. I think there is a lot of positive going on in education and we're improving. The numbers back us up."



Health insurance

State: 760,000 children ages 0-18 are uninsured.

Solano County: Approximately 3,000 children are uninsured.


State: 72 percent of California's fifth-, seventh- and ninth-graders failed to meet state standards for all-around physical fitness in 2006.

Solano County: 74 percent of students tested failed to meet state standards for all-around physical fitness in 2006.

Academic achievement

State: About 60 percent of California's 2-11th graders did not meet state goals for math and reading proficiency in 2006.

Solano County: 57 percent of 2-11th graders did not meet state goals for proficiency in English Language Arts while 68 percent did not meet state goals for proficiency in Mathematics.

Economic well-being:

State: As many as 30 percent of California's children live in an economically-struggling family.

Solano County: About 31 percent of households are economically-struggling (households earning less than $40,000).

Source: California Report Card