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Mass. leads nation in child well-being, study says

By Shannon Young
Associated Press / July 25, 2012
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BOSTON—Massachusetts is the second-best state for child well-being, according to a national study looking at health, education, community and economic factors.

The rankings were announced Wednesday and outlined in the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2012 Kids Count Data Book. The annual study, which analyzes areas of child "well-being," gave its highest overall marks to New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont, while Nevada, New Mexico and Mississippi received the lowest overall scores.

The report is based on the most recent federal data, primarily from 2010, which looks at "well-being" indicators in the areas of health, economic stability, education, and family and community. This year's report marks the first time 16 indicators rather than 10 were used to rank states. Study experts this expanded methodology provides a more comprehensive look.

Although Massachusetts scored high across the board, it received top scores in education and health care, grabbing the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively. It also came in at No. 10 for family and community and No. 11 for economic well-being.

Noah Berger, the president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, a nonpartisan research and policy group, said he believes the high scores in health and education are the direct result of laws that have overhauled those systems in the state.

He pointed to the 2006 health care law, signed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney, which requires nearly all state residents to have health insurance or face penalties. It has been credited with providing a blueprint for President Barack Obama's 2010 federal health care law.

Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, the executive director of Health Care For All, a group that advocates for affordable health care, said the results of the study don't come as too big a surprise.

"I appreciate the findings about health care that echo what we already know at Health Care For All," she said, pointing to the nearly universal coverage among Massachusetts children. Whitcomb Slemmer said she hopes other states see similar results in the future as they move forward in implementing pieces of the Affordable Care Act.

Aside from health care, Berger said, the state's focus on improving its education system is also reflected in its high ranking.

"Massachusetts has historically made significant investments in our schools and enacted similar reforms to improve schools," he said.

Gov. Deval Patrick signed an education bill in 2010 to allow for more charter schools in the state's lowest-performing schools districts. It also included measures aimed at closing the achievement gap between students of different economic backgrounds. Later that year the state adopted national standards for English and math curricula.

Despite these high scores, Berger said, it's important to continue working on improving the lives of Massachusetts children.

"The danger is that if we let our commitment slide, we could lose the advantages we have," he said.

According to the study's national analysis, from 2005 to 2010, the number of children living in poverty-level households rose by 2.4 million, with child poverty rates rising in 43 states.

But while economic indicators declined over this period, education and health care indicators generally increased, with more high school students graduating on time and more children getting health care coverage.

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