OKLAHOMA (KFOR) – The annual Annie E. Casey Kids Count Data Book survey was released Monday, indicating Oklahoma sat in the bottom half of rankings for overall child well-being and education.

The survey takes into account a multitude of factors before finalizing a rank. Some include,

  • Children in poverty
  • Children living in households with a high housing cost burden
  • Fourth graders not proficient in reading
  • Eighth graders not proficient in math
  • High school students not graduating on time
  • Children without health insurance
  • Child and teen deaths per 100,000
  • Children in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma
  • Children in single-parent families

Through these factors, the survey ranked Oklahoma as:

  • 40th in overall child well-being
  • 32nd in economic well-being
  • 45th in education
  • 42nd in health
  • 41st in family and community

The founder of Be the Village Inc., Tiffany Middleton told KFOR she’s not shocked with this research.

Be the Village Inc. is a nonprofit that works towards youth development. They offer tutoring services, mentoring, mental health workshops, and provide food during the summer through their Summer Hunger Program.

Middleton said in her time running the organization since 2019, the ranking has either stayed the same or gone down.

In 2020, Oklahoma ranked 48th in education and 45th in overall well-being. In 2021, Oklahoma ranked 45th in education and 42nd in overall well-being.

Although the rankings are looking better, Middleton said there’s still a disconnect between families, schools, and children in need.

The survey shows 74% of Oklahoma eighth graders are not proficient in math and 74% of fourth graders are not proficient in reading.

“This is a trend we need to reverse because we need our children to be successful. We need them to be happy, healthy, thriving, not just for them, but for us,” said Oklahoma Policy Institute Analyst and Kids Count Data Coordinator, Gabrielle Jacobi. “We’re expecting those same eighth graders who aren’t doing so well in math right now to be legal adults in five years and step into the workforce, step into roles as community leaders and caretakers and parents.”

Middleton said there has to be change for Oklahoma kids, otherwise, the state will continue to see low numbers.

Middleton is calling on state and local leaders to talk to teachers and school districts to figure out what is needed to succeed. She also recommends there be more of a baseline financial assistance to support children and their working parent(s).

Middleton is also hoping for more low-cost resources as she said she was going through tutor costs and saw they’re getting more expensive. “Education is not a luxury. It is a necessity,” she added.

Outside of the classroom, Jacobi said, “The report shows one in five children are growing up in poverty. We can improve this by, you know, increasing the minimum wage, offering paid family medical leave.”

Jacobi also believes tax relief credit should be given back to “hard-working families.”

“Improving economic security, improving our children’s health through protecting Medicaid expansion and making it easier for their parents to enroll and stay enrolled in coverage. We know that has huge benefits to children’s health and well-being,” said Jacobi.

By implementing more, Middleton said it’ll help with the state’s rising depression and anxiety amongst children between the ages of three and 17.

“They’re stressed, like people don’t think children have to be stressed about anything, but they do. They have to worry about their grades, they have to worry about their safety,” said Middleton.

Between 2016 and 2020, the numbers of children between the ages of three and 17 have anxiety and depression has gone up by 15.2%.

Oklahoma’s Secretary of Public Education, Ryan Walters said he’s not surprised by the state’s overall well-being and education ranking.

“Some of our biggest school districts lack focus on academic success and so what we’ve seen is our students are not competing with students from other states,” said Walters.

Walters added he wants to improve the state’s number by offering parents more transparency to parents about what’s being taught in schools, continuing to hold school districts accountable for their actions, and more options for parents when it comes to education.

“Continue to ask questions of your teachers, of your schools, ask what’s going on. Ask for transparency, to see the curriculum being taught. We want to have high expectations,” said Walters.

Walters told KFOR he, along with Governor Stitt will also continue to empower the best and brightest teachers by setting up pathways for them to make up to six figures. He wants to retain teachers this way.

News 4 reached out to the Governor’s office in which they say, “These surveys are done frequently with a variety of factors and, based on who pays for the survey to be commissioned, they’re often are more apt for pushing a political agenda than anything else so unreliable to really get a good picture of how the state is doing.”

The Governor’s office also added they, along with Steve Harpe sit down with his senior staff and cabinet to examine Oklahoma’s performance on a variety of issues including childhood obesity rates, violent crime rates, juvenile custody rates, etc.

The Governor’s research is conducted quarterly and posted on the Governor’s Dashboard of Metrics.

For education, Gov. Stitt’s survey reports 1,020 per 100,000 have higher education degrees and certificates.

The Governor’s office reports 44% of the state’s budget going into education.

“Governor Stitt has invested more into education than most governors before him,” read a statement from his office.