Report: MD lawmakers need to keep spotlight on child well-being

804
The number of Maryland fourth graders who were not proficient in reading increased to 65% in 2019, according to a new report. (Adobe stock)

By Diane Bernard, Maryland News Connection

BALTIMORE — Advocates said Maryland lawmakers need to focus more than ever on helping children, as a new report shows the state dropped from 21st in the nation in 2019 for child wellbeing to 24th in 2020.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Book analyzed how families have fared between the Great Recession and the COVID-19 crisis. The number of Maryland children in poverty improved slightly, but education numbers dropped during that time.

Nonso Umunna, research director at Advocates for Children and Youth in Baltimore, pointed out this year, the General Assembly passed a bill overhauling education funding, which promises to turn the school system around.

“It will enable every school to get the funding they need, to provide them with the infrastructure they need and the resources they need,” Umunna asserted. “And we believe this will be able to help impact the communities, particularly communities of color, kids with special needs and kids who are learning English for the first time.”

Even before the pandemic interrupted education, the report found 67% of Maryland eighth graders were not proficient in math, up from 60% in 2010.

The report includes the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey data from 2020, to assess the impacts of the pandemic.

Umunna emphasized Marylanders of color were hit particularly hard, and now need extra support to recover.

“We have families of color not getting the support that they need, families who were frontline workers who ended up losing household members,” Umunna explained. “They’re mainly people of color who had children to care for, and so they didn’t have some of the luxuries that others had in order to social distance and stay home.”

Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs for the Foundation, said one solution to reduce disparities and deliver financial support to families in need would be to permanently expand the Child Tax Credit, which is getting a one-year expansion this year.

“It’s expected to raise as many as half of children who are currently living below the poverty line to living above the poverty line,” Boissiere predicted.

In 2019, 157,000 or 12% of Maryland children lived in households with incomes below the poverty line, a slight improvement from 2010, during the Great Recession.