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More children of color live in poverty than whites in Minnesota

Stephanie Hogenson, research and policy director at the Minnesota Children’s Defense Fund, speaks Monday during a Kids Count Coffee at the Willmar Public Library. (GARY MILLER | TRIBUNE)

WILLMAR — Minnesota was named the top state in the country for child well-being in July, but that lofty ranking doesn’t tell the full story of a state experiencing wide opportunity and achievement gaps for children of color.

“At the Children’s Defense Fund, we were excited about that (ranking),” said Stephanie Hogenson, research and policy director for the CDF in Minnesota. However, a closer look shows that some children in the state aren’t doing nearly as well as others.

The CDF-MN recently released its 2015 Kids Count Data Book, which outlines conditions for children in the state. Hogenson discussed the results at a meeting in Willmar Monday afternoon. She also asked the dozen participants to share what they thought was working and not working in for children in Kandiyohi County.

The annual report Kids Count reports are funded in each state by The Annie E. Casey Foundation. The foundation’s national Kids Count Data Book placed Minnesota at the top of the list for its strides in child well-being.

Almost one-fifth of Kandiyohi County’s children live in poverty, according to the Minnesota report. Statewide, 14 percent of children lived in poverty in 2013, the most recent statistics available, but Kandiyohi County’s percentage was 18.1 percent.

Statistics of child poverty indicate that the state’s white children are doing quite well, with just 11 percent of them living in families earning less than the federal poverty line in 2013. For other races or ethnic groups, the news is gloomier — 31 percent of Asian children, 32 percent of children of two or more races, 37 percent of Hispanic/Latino children, 58 percent of black children and 62 percent of American Indian children all live below the federal poverty line.

One-fifth of American Indian and black children live in extreme poverty, with their families earning less than half the federal poverty guideline of just less than $24,000 for a family of four.

Low-income children face a variety of barriers to success, particularly if they live in areas of concentrated poverty, Hogenson said. They are more likely to lack health insurance coverage and access to health care.

They also may live in substandard housing with limited access to grocery stores and public services, she said.

“Where you live affects your outcome,” she said. “We’re seeing it across the country and in Minnesota children living in these neighborhoods.”

The lists of what’s working and not working for kids in the area included things like comprehensive services for kids with mental illness, free breakfast in schools, volunteers who read with kids, and cultural liaisons who work in the schools.

Some things listed that participants feel are not working — suspensions, school counselors with too many students, and a lack of cultural competency training. Children need more transportation options for after-school programs and other activities, too, they said.

Participants also said the schools need to have more staff members of color.

“We need to help develop them, and get them teaching,” said Kristin Dresler, principal at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar.

Hogenson said CDF-MN has several legislative priorities for 2016. The organization plans to lobby for affordable, accessible childcare and paid family leave for workers in the state.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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