The 2017 State of the State for Wisconsin’s Children

Tomorrow afternoon, Governor Walker will deliver his State of the State address. Traditionally, governors have not used the State of the State address to focus on the well-being of children, but they should. Today’s children grow up to be tomorrow’s workers, caregivers, and leaders. If we want to have a healthy, well-educated workforce that can not only compete in a global economy but can also take care of us in our old age, then we must invest now in excellent schools, safe communities, and high quality health care.

At WCCF we stand up for every kid, every family and every community because our vision is for a Wisconsin where every child thrives. As you evaluate the Governor’s speech, please look for the extent to which he lays out a vision that provides opportunity for all, or whether his proposals will further deepen the racial and economic inequities that already exist in our state.

The State of the State address, and the Budget address next month, present the opportunity for the Governor to lay out his priorities. The question everyone who cares about children and families must ask is whether the Governor is prioritizing investments in the well-being of Wisconsin’s children, or not.

We have a great deal of work to do. Far too many children and families in Wisconsin are struggling:

  • Over 200,000 Wisconsin children (or 1 out of 6) live in poverty. It is well established that growing up in poverty can have life-long negative effects on a child.
  • A typical Wisconsin household earns significantly less today than before the recession. Median household income declined $2,200 between 2007 and 2015.
  • About 46,000 Wisconsin children were uninsured in 2015, and therefore lacked access to timely preventative health care.
  • There has been a dangerously high decline in the number of children receiving subsidized early care and education, with declines in some rural counties of over 50%. High quality early care and education is important not only for school readiness, but also for child safety and social development.
  • In our state, the opportunity to succeed is shaped by factors like geography, income, race and ethnicity. It is particularly troubling that racial inequities remain stark and are virtually unacknowledged by much of our state’s leadership. For example, Black children in Wisconsin are more than four times as likely to live in poverty as white children.

But due in part to investments forward thinking leaders have made in the past, there have been some positive steps for Wisconsin’s children. They include:

  • Wisconsin preschoolers have wide access to high-quality public four-year old kindergarten programs, which help students build solid foundations for later success in school. Only five states have a higher share of four-year olds enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs than Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s leadership in early education dates all the way back to 1856, when the first kindergarten in the country was established in Watertown, Wisconsin.
  • Fewer Wisconsin teens are getting into trouble with the law. In part due to the success of diversion programs and decreased recidivism, the rate of juvenile arrests has fallen by more than half since 2002.
  • Fewer Wisconsin teenagers are having babies. The teen birth rate in Wisconsin has fallen for eight years in a row, and is now less than half of what it was in the 1990s. That means fewer babies are born to young parents who may be unprepared financially and emotionally to give their children what they need to succeed.

Some of these facts pose significant challenges for Wisconsin’s future, while others are signs of advancements in well-being that have resulted from investments in communities and families. If the Governor, lawmakers, families, and advocates all agree to make children a high priority, we can make significant progress in improving the state of Wisconsin’s children.

The KIDS COUNT Data Center has more information about the well-being of Wisconsin children.

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