June 21, 2024

Florida Policymakers Must Act to Promote Kids' Future Success

Each year, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Data Book presents national and state data from 16 indicators in four domains — economic well-being, education, health, and family and community — and ranks the states according to how children are faring overall.

Among the 50 states, Florida ranked 30th in overall child well-being in 2024, similar to last year’s ranking of 31st. Florida’s best showing was in the education domain, in which it ranked 5th, as it did in 2023. In health and family & community Florida ranked 31st and 30th, respectively; both slightly improved over last year. Out of the four domains, Florida performed the lowest in economic well-being, moving from 37th to 42nd this year.

State rankings are typically sought after because they are easy to understand and, when reliable and valid measures are used, as they are in the Data Book, they provide general guidance on how to proceed — whether it is to do better or hold the course. However, the complexities of ensuring the well-being in a state that has more than 4.4 million children cannot easily be reduced to a single number.

The state’s ranking of 5th in the education domain obscures the fact that there was little change in reading scores over time; according to last year’s Data Book, 62 percent of fourth graders in Florida were not proficient in reading, compared to 61 percent in 2024. There was also a significant increase in the number of eighth graders not proficient in math, going from 69 percent in 2019 to 77 percent in 2022. It also hides large learning differences for Black and Latina/o students, and students in Title I schools that serve students with limited resources. Graduation rates did improve, however, a fact that should be acknowledged and celebrated.

...the complexities of ensuring the well-being in a state that has more than 4.4 million children cannot easily be reduced to a single number.

These gains are not sustainable given the situation in Florida’s education system without concerted and substantial investment. There are widespread teacher and instruction personnel shortages, with average teacher pay ranked 50th nationally. Billions of dollars are being diverted from public schools to private school students and home-schooled students, many of whom were never in the public school system to begin with. Many school districts in Florida face tough decisions about whether to close schools with the loss of funding and declines in enrollment. These schools are frequently in the under-resourced neighborhoods where schools are central to community life.

Florida ranked 31st in the health domain, which also masks the fact that the trends in this domain are getting worse, not better. The percent of low birthweight babies is significantly higher than it was in 2019. The rate of child and teen deaths are also significantly higher than in 2019. The factors that contribute to low birthweights are generally identifiable well before birth and can be prevented. Child and teen deaths are most common in adolescents and are largely attributable to accidental injury such as motor vehicle crashes, firearms, and suffocation. These too are amenable to prevention such as wearing seat belts and refraining from texting and driving. The percentage of children without health insurance decreased, which is positive; however, this was measured using data from 2022, a year in which the state was under the federal public health emergency and prohibited from disenrolling children from Medicaid. The Medicaid “unwinding,” when the state began to review eligibility of Medicaid recipients, began in April 2023, and disenrollments since that time are not reflected in this ranking.

The state’s economic ranking fell to 42nd from 37th this year. This trend is important to note because it shows that Florida families are not sharing in the state’s economic gains. Thirty-eight percent of Florida’s children live in households that spend 30 percent or more of their income on rent or mortgages, a measure of high housing cost burden. The combination of high housing cost burden and high costs of child care are two enormous pressures on Floridians working to support their families.

The family and community domain, in which Florida ranked 30th, showed improvements on all four indicators in the domain — parent education levels, the number of children in single parent households, the share of children living in high poverty, and reductions in teen births. Each indicator in the domain improved at least one percentage point. Ensuring that parents are able to complete their high school education increases their earning potential and ability to support their families. Delaying childbirth until later in life helps mothers increase their educational attainment and therefore their earning potential; it also contributes to reductions in low birth weight babies. Continuing investments in education and prevention helps parents support their families.

It is crucial that discussions of state rankings also include a more in-depth look at how issues are interrelated and what steps policymakers can take to increase investment and improve child well-being. Specifically, FPI recommends:

  • Florida’s ranking of 5th in the education domain needs to spur greater investment in public education, including continued significant investment in teacher pay and per pupil funding at levels equivalent to those prior to the Great Recession. The 2024 legislative session showed a will to expand early learning and child care access. Though few bills crossed the finish line, there will be another opportunity next session to increase income eligibility for families and expand Florida’s Voluntary Pre-K program to an eight hour day.
  • Prevention is key to child well-being — Florida should expand Medicaid to individuals earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $35,632 a year for a three-person family. This expansion would increase women’s access to prenatal care and in having healthier babies.
  • Children and their mothers do better physically and mentally when they have stable housing. Florida’s escalating housing and insurance costs make it harder and harder for families to maintain their housing. More is needed to ensure affordable housing for all of Florida’s families.

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