HELENA — Montana ranks among the bottom 10 states for teenagers ages 16 to 19 who have dropped out of high school before graduating, the Annie E. Casey Foundations Kids Count reported Monday.
Nine percent of Montana teens fell into this category in 2008 to rank 44th among the states, the Kids Count Data Book said. That compares with 7 percent in 2000.
Kids Count uses both 2008 and 2007 statistics in the 2010 Data Book.
In contrast to the Montana numbers, the national trend in the category is down 45 percent. The number of teens aged 16-19 not in school and who haven’t graduated has fallen from 11 percent in 2000 to 6 percent in 2008 nationally, a decrease of 45 percent, the report said.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau said Montana’s dropout numbers are higher because the state has a more thorough way to track students, who may transfer to other schools, through a student identification number.
Despite that, Juneau said, “Our dropout rate is high, and we need to do something about it.”
Her office has put together initiatives to take to the 2011 Legislature, including a proposal requiring students to stay in school until they are 18 or until they graduate. Students now can drop out when they turn 16.
“It’s important to set a policy at the state level that we expect everyone to graduate from high school at a minimum,” she said.
In addition, Juneau proposes a state plan based on Graduation Matters Missoula, which local Superintendent Alex Apostle started. It is a partnership among the mayor, local businesses and schools to emphasize high school graduation.
“We want to scale it up Montana, and, hopefully, down the line, once it gets going, every school could decide to pick up the idea and best use the resources,” she said.
Ten percent of Montana teens from 16 to 19 have dropped out of school and are not working, and the state ranked 39th nationally, according to the Kids Count Data Book. For the entire country, the rate was 8 percent nationally. Similar statistics were not collected for 2000.
More than one out of five Montana children, 21 percent, lived in poverty in 2008, putting the state 38th nationally, the Kids Count report said. This is defined as the percentage of incomes below $21,834 for a family of two adults and two children in 2008.
The number of students in poverty is a 24 percent increase from 2000, when 17 percent of Montana children lived in poverty.
Nationally, the percentage of children living in poverty has increased from 17 percent in 2000 to 18 percent in 2008, Kids Count said.
Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, who heads an anti-poverty group called Working for Equality and Economic Liberation, said she’s not surprised by the figures.
“I think it’s a moral obligation to take care of our children,” Caferro said. “Some of us are really going to have to do more with less for others to survive. We do that by policies that create upward mobility. We’re going to need to sacrifice.”
During the 2009 Legislature, Caferro said, she and some others called for a more targeted approach to spending federal stimulus dollars. They expressed the concern that federal stimulus money was going to “step right over the people who need help the most,” she said.
One stimulus-funded program was targeted at this group.
Montana also saw its percentage of low-birth-weight babies increase to 7.2 percent in 2007 to rank 18th nationally. That’s up from 6.2 percent in 2000.
Nationally, the trend rose from 7.6 percent in 2000 to 8.2 percent in 2007.
The state’s infant mortality rate, or deaths per 1,000 live births, grew to 6.3 deaths in 2007 to rank 13th nationally. It was at 6.1 deaths in 2007m for a 3 percent increase.
Nationally, the infant mortality rate dropped from 6.9 percent to 6.7 percent.
Montana’s child death rate, which is the deaths per 100,000 children ages 1 to 14, improved over the period but is still higher than the national rate, Kids Count said. Montana had 33 deaths per 100,000 in 2000, and it dropped to 22 in 2007.
The state rate ranked 36th.
Nationally, the rate dropped from 22 deaths per 100,000 children ages 1-14 in 2000 to 19 deaths in 2007, a 14 percent reduction.
Likewise, Montana’s teen death rate dropped, the Kids Count Data Book showed. Montana had 98 deaths per 100,000 teens ages 15-19 in 2000, and it was reduced to 80 in 2997 for a drop of 18 percent, Kids Count said. Montana still ranked 36th.
Montana’s teen birth rate, based on births per 1,000 females from ages 15 to 19, remained the same at 37 in both 2007 and 2000, placing the state 21st nationally in 2007, Kids Count said.
Nationally, teen birth rate dropped from 48 in 2000 to 43 in 2007, for a 10 percent drop.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private charitable organization that seeks to help improve futures for disadvantaged children in the United States.