By Andy Metzger

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

BOSTON -- Massachusetts children lead the nation in educational achievement and health insurance coverage and the Bay State has one of the lowest child poverty rates in the nation, according to a Baltimore-based philanthropic organization that declared Massachusetts first overall in child well-being.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count report set for release Tuesday studied economic, health, community and educational metrics, and while Massachusetts children improved in most areas, their condition worsened over recent years in regards to childhood poverty, parental employment, single-parent households and children living in high-poverty areas.

Independent rankings serve as sources of pride or embarrassment for the state officials. Gov. Deval Patrick plans to attend a Tuesday morning event at a Jamaica Plan learning lab to announce the results of Kids Count.

"The good news in the Kids Count Data Book is that, in the aggregate, Massachusetts does well by children because we have invested in education and health care," Citizens for Public Schools President Ann O'Halloran said in a statement issued through the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. "The bad news is that an opportunity gap exists for poor children and children of color--they need early education, small class sizes through the third grade, and learning experiences that support the needs of the whole child.


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Other New England states followed close behind Massachusetts in the Kids Count rankings. Vermont was second, New Hampshire was fourth and Connecticut was seventh.

Massachusetts scored below New Hampshire and 11 other states in the economic categories, topped the chart in education, ranked only below Iowa in health, and ranked eighth in family and community - a category where New Hampshire ranked first. Overall, Mississippi ranked lowest.

Economic factors well known to policy makers and aggravated by the Great Recession caused Massachusetts to slip in a few categories over recent years. The 15 percent of Bay State children in poverty in 2012 is a tick up from 2005, though well below the 23 percent of children living in poverty nationwide. In Massachusetts, 414,000 children, or 30 percent, had parents who lacked secure employment in 2012 compared to 26 percent in 2008.

The majority of measurements showed cause for encouragement, however. High school students not graduating on time fell by a third from 2005 and 2006 when it was at 21 percent to 14 percent in 2011 and 2012.

The 1 percent, or 20,000 Massachusetts children without health insurance in 2012, compared to 7 percent nationwide.

Massachusetts had the lowest percentage of fourth graders not proficient in reading, 45 percent in 2013, and at 45 percent the lowest number of eighth graders not proficient in math that same year.

Teens who abuse alcohol or drugs have fallen locally and nationally as have teen births, which dropped precipitously in Massachusetts and the country as a whole between 2005 and 2012. In Massachusetts in 2012 there were 14 teen births per 1,000 compared to 29 teen births per 1,000 nationwide. Massachusetts and New Hampshire had the lowest teen birth rates in 2012.

"The continued decline in the teen birth rate in Massachusetts is a testament to the potential of youth, the strength of communities, and the positive investments in teen pregnancy prevention by policymakers," said Elizabeth Peck, of Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, in a statement also released through the Budget and Policy Center. "However, the state wide average ignores the inequities in health outcomes for underprivileged groups in our state. We have a responsibility as a state to structure resources so that they more equitably serve communities and racial/ethnic minorities with teen birth rates well above the state average."