Children's Voice Oct/Nov 2005

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California

Due to growing interest in publicly funded preschool for all children in California, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation recently asked the RAND Corporation to answer two questions:
  • What are the expected direct costs and benefits for the public sector and society as a whole to implement a quality, universal preschool program in California?

  • What other potential indirect economic and noneconomic benefits may be associated with such a program?
RAND discovered that well-designed preschool programs serving disadvantaged children can generate benefits to government and the rest of society that outweigh program costs. For example, according to RAND, a one-year, universal, high-quality preschool program in California, at a cost of $4,300 per child beyond current public preschool spending, would generate $11,400 per child in benefits for California society--a net benefit of more than $7,000 per child, or $2.62 for every dollar spent.

RAND also found that each annual cohort of California children served would net $2.7 billion in present-value benefits for California, such as reduced remedial education services for and increased educational attainment by program participants, reduced abuse and neglect of participants, reduced victimization by crimes committed by participants, increased wage and salary compensation of participants, increased taxes realized by government, and reduced need for child care for participants.

In estimating costs and benefits, researchers assumed a high level of program quality, meaning that the universal preschool program would meet nationally recognized standards for class sizes, staff ratios, staff qualifications, and other features associated with better outcomes for children. RAND also assumed a part-day, voluntary program that would enroll 70% of the state's 4-year-olds. Cost estimates were based on data on teacher salaries and other costs in California.

Massachusetts

A report by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health shows that, in 2003, the state had the second lowest infant mortality rate in its history, but the infant mortality rate among African Americans was three times that of whites.

Despite a statewide mandate that all pregnant women receive prenatal care, racial disparities in infant mortality have persisted, prompting public health officials to call for "intensified efforts to narrow the infant mortality chasm," according to the Boston Globe.

The state report reveals the mortality rate for African American infants younger than 1 year was 12.7 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2003, compared with 4.1 deaths per 1,000 live births among non-Hispanic whites. Among Hispanics and Asians in the state, the infant mortality rate was 5.6 and 2.7 deaths, respectively, per 1,000 live births.

Officials stress that pre- and postnatal care are important to preventing infant mortality. Adequacy of prenatal care--a measure of the timing and number of prenatal care visits, not the quality of prenatal care--decreased less than 1% from 2002 to 2003 in Massachusetts.

On the bright side, the overall infant mortality rate in Massachusetts has decreased 31% since 1990, from 7 deaths per 1,000 live births to 4.8 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2003, according to the report. The 2003 state infant mortality rate is about 30% below the national rate.

The health department report also found:
  • Teen births in Massachusetts have decreased 36% since 1990, with 22.6 births per 1,000 women ages 15-19 in 2003. The Massachusetts teen birth rate in 2003 was 46% below the preliminary U.S. teen birth rate of 41.7 births per 1,000 women ages 15-19.

  • The teen birth rate among Hispanics ages 15-19 is about six times that of non-Hispanic whites.

  • The percentage of infants born with low birthweight increased from 5.8% in 1990 to 7.6% in 2003.

  • The percentage of preterm infants--delivered before the 37th week of gestation--increased 2% between 2002 and 2003.

  • The percentage of women who smoked during pregnancy continued a steady decline, from 7.9% in 2002 to 7.7% in 2003. Decreases in smoking during pregnancy occurred among all races and ethnicity groups except for Asians.
The full report, Massachusetts Births 2003, is available online at www.mass.gov/dph/bhsre/resep/resep.htm#birth.

Minnesota

In October 2003, trained volunteers with the Amherst Wilder Foundation, a nonprofit health and human service organization serving the greater Saint Paul area, fanned out to emergency shelters, battered women's shelters, transitional housing programs, drop-in centers, hot-meal sites, and street locations to interview homeless youth ages 8-17 who were not with their parents, and homeless young adults ages 18-20.

Earlier this year, Wilder Research reported its findings from interviews with 431 homeless youth and young adults. According to the survey, homeless youth--compared with homeless adults and families--have fewer shelters available to them and fewer legal provisions for housing and other basic needs. Between 2000 and 2003, the number of beds available for homeless Minnesota youth declined. The report noted, however, that homeless youth are less likely than adults to stay in shelters, temporarily staying instead with friends or in places not intended for habitation.

Despite the difficulties of obtaining a true picture of the state's homeless youth and young adults, the foundation made the following estimates about the extent of homelessness among young people in Minnesota:
  • In 2003, an estimated 12,600-22,500 Minnesota youth under 18, and 3,720-6,000 young adults, ages 18-20, experienced at least one episode of homelessness.

  • On any given night, 500-600 homeless youth ages 8-17, and 500-1,200 young adults were on their own in 2003.
Nearly 1 in 2 homeless youth has been physically or sexually mistreated (46%), and 7 in 10 homeless youth have experienced an out-of-home placement (71%). The survey also found a marked increase in the proportion of homeless youth who have been in foster care. The percentage remained relatively consistent between 1991 and 2000 (36%-41%) but increased to 53% in 2003.

Other findings include:
  • The average age for youth on their own was 16. The youngest homeless youth in 2003 was 8 years old.

  • More than 6 in 10, or 64%, of the homeless youth were girls. For the young adults, 65% were female, compared with 48% of the overall homeless adult population.

  • About 65% of the homeless youth on their own were African American, American Indian, Asian, or multiracial.

  • A growing number of homeless youth were enrolled in school--84% in 2003, compared with 52% in 1994, and 73% in 1997 and 2000. One-third of the homeless youth reported receiving special-education services. Nine youth had graduated from high school or received a GED.

  • The main reasons Minnesota youth cited for leaving home included conflicts with family (60%), being told to leave (43%), or desiring to be on their own (43%).

New Mexico

Governor Bill Richardson (D) signed the Pre-Kindergarten Act into law in April, expanding opportunities for voluntary, high-quality early childhood education to more than 1,400 4-year-olds statewide.

"Too many children come to school at 5 years old with the development of a 3- to 2-year-old," said Richardson, who included $5 million in his budget for pre-K programs. "These children face more obstacles to success and tough challenges throughout life."

Under the Pre-Kindergarten Act, the Public Education Department and the Children Youth and Families Department will coordinate pre-K services. Licensed private providers, local education agencies, regional education cooperatives, charter schools, and tribes can apply for funding.

Currently, state-funded pre-K is accessible to only 5.6% of New Mexico's 4-year-olds, according to the organization Pre-K Now. About half of the state's 4-year-olds are enrolled in other programs, such as day care, Head Start, or private or religious programs.

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