New KIDS COUNT Data Book Shows District’s Successes and Shortcomings in Supporting Child and Youth Well-Being

June 10, 2024
Blog Post

According to the 2024 KIDS COUNT® Data Book, released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the District of Columbia does an impressive job of ensuring that our children have access to health insurance and to prekindergarten. But we have a long way to go to provide the economic and educational opportunities every child needs to thrive. Poverty rates, reading and math proficiency rates, school absenteeism, and graduation rates all fall among the worst in the nation. That juxtaposition between what’s possible when we make consistent, well-managed investments in our children’s well-being, and what our young people face when we fail to do so is particularly salient now as the DC Council debates the budget for the next fiscal year. As the KIDS COUNT state partner for the District, DC Action is glad that these data can help make it clear where the District is doing well, and where we need to improve.

For example, early childhood educators, program directors, and parents of young children are grateful that Chairman Mendelson restored $70 million per year (over four years) to the Early Childhood Educator Pay Equity Fund. But the program currently costs $87 million. If the DC Council doesn’t close the gap, this reduced funding level will result in pay and health benefit cuts for early educators. Two years ago the District took historic steps toward fair and equal pay for those who educate and care for infants and toddlers, emulating our success – evident in the new KIDS COUNT Data Book – in supporting access to education for three- and four-year-olds. Now is not the time to backpedal. 

Similarly, we are glad that the DC Council has replaced one-time federal funds for out-of-school-time (OST) programs with local dollars, demonstrating its commitment to the opportunities that OST activities provide. We are also glad that the DC Council has restored $7 million of the $10 million dollars cut from DCPS’s budget to provide afterschool programs with security. However, not closing the $3 million gap means that community-based afterschool programs will be burdened with the cost of mandated security measures. The Casey report shows that 44% of District students are chronically absent from school. We know that kids who participate in high-quality afterschool and summer programs are more likely to attend school and engage in their classrooms, and hope the DC Council will make sure that security costs don’t pose a barrier to community-based programs supporting our young people.

The KIDS COUNT Data Book also shows that, while the percentage of District children in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment has decreased considerably over the last few years, it is still higher than in any state (34% vs. 26% nationally). DC’s high rate is driven by limited economic opportunities for families of color, caused by factors such as racial discrimination in hiring practices, jobs requiring education that are out of reach due to historical educational disparities, and racial disparities in incarceration rates contributing to the number of single-parent households. In the city with the widest racial wealth disparity in the nation, just 9% of white children are in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment.

The debate around support for the social safety net in next year’s budget impacts Black youth most profoundly since they make up the vast majority of youth experiencing homelessness. While we are relieved there haven’t been cuts in funding for organizations that serve youth experiencing homelessness, we are concerned that funding remains flat even as the number of youth needing help continues to rise, as do program costs due to inflation. Given how many youth experiencing homelessness report mental health challenges, we’re particularly concerned about the lack of comprehensive mental health support specifically for this group, despite consistent requests for services from providers and youth themselves.

The 2024 KIDS COUNT® Data Book includes 16 measures of well-being that offer insight into how children and youth are faring in the District of Columbia and other states across the country. We encourage you to take a closer look.