The recently released county-by-county specifics of the 2011 Kansas Kids Count data were sobering for Sedgwick County, identifying areas where improvement would be welcome in the approaching new year.
The county's kids are worse off than their peers statewide in some significant categories. The discouraging highlights:
— Nearly 57 percent of kids in Sedgwick County public schools qualified in 2011 for free or reduced-price school lunches, compared with 47.4 percent statewide.
— In 2009 the county had higher rates than the state for infant deaths, low-birthweight babies and youth binge drinking.
— Only 4.41 Early Head Start slots and 30 Head Start slots were available last year per 100 poor kids in the county, compared with 7.23 and 49 per 100 statewide, respectively.
The county also badly lags the state in high school graduation rates and the percentage of public schools meeting "adequate yearly progress" requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
And the areas in which the county outperforms the state provide little comfort, because they mean Sedgwick County saw 36 per 100,000 teens die violently and 27 percent of kindergartners behind on immunizations in 2009.
Sedgwick County's numbers are hardly surprising, given that they coincide with a period in which the county saw thousands of jobs cut and its enrollment of kids on Medicaid grow by an average 1,635 a year to more than 44,000. But they confirm the depth of the challenge locally for families and the agencies and governments that are trying to help them.
Meanwhile, one-quarter of Kansas children live in families in which no parent has full-time employment.
There is guidance in such data for those public leaders open to it.
As Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, said in a statement: "Children who live in poverty face hardships that can hinder future success. This issue isn't going away, and we need to protect programs and services that help lift families out of poverty."
It's important to note that while more than 18 percent of kids live in poverty in Sedgwick County, the state's second-most populous, only 8.20 percent of kids are poor in Johnson County, the population leader and an outsize player in Topeka.
As it calls locals to action, the Kids Count county-by-county data can help the governor and other state leaders recognize that Kansas kids are growing up on an uneven playing field, and that their priorities and lawmaking need to be adjusted accordingly.