Is above average good enough?

According to health, education and economic success indicators, children in Marion County appear to be faring better than those in similar counties or across Kansas. Where trend data is available, it looks like risk factors for children in our county are decreasing. More mothers are receiving adequate prenatal care. There are fewer traffic crash fatalities among 15- to 19-year-olds. A lower percentage of our county youth are smoking cigarettes or binge drinking.

Communities In Schools of Marion County is a partner with Kansas Action for Children in the Kansas KIDS COUNT Project, part of a nationwide initiative funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. 2008 KIDS COUNT Data for Marion County tells us that we have adequate slots for Head Start-eligible preschoolers. Pre-kindergarten and all-day kindergarten educational opportunities are becoming the norm in our school districts. More than 87 percent of our fifth graders are proficient in reading compared to the Kansas rate of 82.3 percent. One hundred percent of our public schools met Adequate Yearly Progress on last school year assessments while only 88.9 percent did across the state.

On paper, it looks like Marion County families may be surviving economic downturns as well. The most recent available economic data is for 2005, which indicates a lower percentage of children under age 18 living below 100 percent of poverty. However, the percent of children participating in the free and reduced price school lunch programs may be a better indicator of the financial situation for county families. Nearly 35 percent of Marion County students in all grades now participate in the program.

In many ways, it is a good thing to live in Marion County. But is above average good enough when considering the welfare of children?

One might keep in mind that the Marion County Food Bank is currently experiencing financial and food shortages due to high usage. We must remember that while our data looks good, there are 13 percent of mothers who do not receive adequate prenatal care. At least one family grieved the death of a teenager in a 2005 traffic crash. More than 12 percent of fifth graders are not reading proficiently. Last year, more than 10 percent of our kids smoked cigarettes and more than 11 percent had more than five alcoholic drinks in a row, the definition of binge drinking.

Marion County kids should count for every decision made in city, county, and school district governance. While we are doing many things well, the existence of even one abused child, one teen death, one failing fifth grader, or one family in poverty diminishes the quality of life for everyone.

— Linda Ogden

Executive Director Communities In Schools of Marion County