Education

Poverty nothing new to Fresno County, but it’s especially tough for kids, report says

Young students at Alice Birney Elementary School sit in a circle in November, 2015. A new report highlights the challenges Fresno County schools face in teaching students living in poverty.
Young students at Alice Birney Elementary School sit in a circle in November, 2015. A new report highlights the challenges Fresno County schools face in teaching students living in poverty. Fresno Bee file

Fresno County has more children living in communities of concentrated poverty than anywhere else in California.

About 40 percent of Fresno County children live in poverty, according to a Children Now report released Tuesday. The report tracks child welfare and well-being in part by the number of children who are not living in communities of concentrated poverty. That number is 53 percent in Fresno County, ranking it last in the state.

Those numbers are worse for minority students, with 38 percent of Fresno County’s black children not living in communities of concentrated poverty, and 44 percent of Latino children not living in those communities.

280,951children living in Fresno County

That’s based on the percentage of children under 17 who are not living in census tracts where 30 percent or more of residents are living below the federal poverty level, which is about $24,000 for a family of four.

Tulare County was ranked 57th (out of 58 counties) in that category, while Kings County was ranked 55th and Madera was ranked 53rd.

Children Now is a nonpartisan organization that monitors education, health and child welfare issues. Its expansive “scorecard” released Tuesday ranks counties on everything from reading skills to prenatal care.

Overall, Fresno County received two out of five stars for education, 2.5 stars for health and three stars for child welfare and economic well-being.

36percent of families in Fresno County say they can afford basic living expenses

About 30 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in Fresno County attend preschool, ranking it 55th in California alongside Merced and Riverside counties. Kern County ranked last in the state for that category, Tulare County ranked 47th and Kings County ranked 50th.

Fresno County also ranked 46th when it comes to families reading to children under age 5, with that number at 58 percent. In that category, Fresno tied with Kern, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz and Ventura counties.

Tulare County ranked last in the state for that category, Merced County ranked 56th and Kings County ranked 35th.

Less than 40 percent of Fresno County third-graders read at grade level – a time that educators say is a crucial indicator for future success. Those numbers are worse for minorities as well: Only 23 percent of Fresno County’s black third-graders are reading at grade level and 31 percent of Latinos.

Fresno County ranked high in some areas, though.

The county is in the top tier for giving low-income students access to after-school programs and for doling out suspensions only for serious offenses.

Fresno County also is ranked in the top 10 in the state because 85 percent of local women receive early prenatal care. The county ranked sixth statewide because of its number of schools that have a health center.

Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays

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