Andrea Bennett

Jeffersontown, KY – A new KIDS COUNT® data snapshot, co-released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Kentucky Youth Advocates, finds that a large majority of children in Kentucky are not reading proficiently by the time they reach fourth grade – a key predictor of a student’s future educational and economic success. While Kentucky has made progress in education, the state must accelerate improvement in reading proficiency to have enough skilled workers for an increasingly competitive global economy.

Early Reading Proficiency in the United States finds that about two-thirds (64 percent) of Kentucky children are not meeting the important benchmark: reading at grade level at the start of fourth grade. In addition, Kentucky is one of only 12 states where the reading proficiency gap between students from higher- and lower-income families widened by more than 30 percent from 2003 to 2013. The data used in the snapshot is from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which has a higher standard for proficiency than Kentucky’s state reading assessment test.

“Kentucky has recently been recognized as a leader in several areas including health with the launch of kynect and in education with the early childhood Race to the Top grant announcement and the passage of the high school graduation bill last year,” said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “Kentucky needs to continue on that leadership path and work to improve in key areas. The emphasis on preschool and child care in the Governor’s budget starts us on that path.”

“We know ensuring that children can read and write on grade level is essential if we are to increase the number of kids college and career ready and do well in life,” said Dr. Robert Cooter, reading researcher and Dean of Bellarmine University’s School of Education. “Research has documented that children who read proficiently by the end of third grade are more likely to graduate from high school, are less likely to fall into poverty and crime, and are more likely to find a job that can adequately support their families. We also know that children from poverty and near-poverty enter school three or more years behind their peers from better off families. The NAEP results are clear… this is a war we are losing in Kentucky. To win the reading war, research shows that investing in quality preschool programs, parent education, and investments in ongoing teacher training on proven literacy education practices, not programs, can turn the tide in Kentucky. Now is the time for our political leaders to act.”

The new snapshot recommends solutions to increase reading proficiency for children to help them attain economic security as adults. Early education is one critical area of importance to put kids on the right track for success. Restored funding for child care assistance, which was recently proposed in the Governor’s budget, will ensure that young children can be cared for in safe, structured environments that will prepare them for kindergarten. Additionally, the Governor proposed expanding the income eligibility for preschool so more children can attend and start kindergarten ready to learn.

Adequate funding for K-12 education is also an important part of ensuring quality instruction for all students. The SEEK formula, established in 1990, is the basic funding formula used to allocate state dollars to school districts. Under SEEK, the state sets a guaranteed district allotment for each student but gives a higher per pupil allotment to economically disadvantaged schools. Education Week’s Quality Counts report gives Kentucky a grade of B- overall on education but gives Kentucky a grade of F for spending. Inadequate funding of education has had negative impacts across the state, but it has especially contributed to the inequities of higher- and lower-income students.

“Kentucky education funding has not kept pace with higher expectations for student achievement. The investments in education outlined by the Governor in his budget will truly make an impact on student learning and we commend him for reflecting his commitment to education in the budget allocations he recommends,” said Brooks

Brooks observes, “If there is one area that invites innovation when it comes to 4th grade literacy, it is attention to noncognitive factors.  Health and family well-being also impact literacy but tend to get lost in Kentucky’s focus on high stakes accountability.  Ironically, there may be no effort that carries more potential to boost reading than in paying attention to issues that transcend the schoolhouse door.”

One of those noncognitive factors is economic security of families, which is deeply connected with how children succeed in school. With more than one in four Kentucky children living in poverty, it is crucial to help families become financially secure. A state Earned Income Credit is an example of a policy that can help kids get on track academically while families get on track financially.

“We commend the Governor for making children a priority in his budget by proposing funding for several investments that will help kids learn and succeed. We now turn to our state legislators to protect the investments in the Governor’s budget, including funding for classrooms, restored child care, and expanded preschool.”

Early Reading Proficiency in the United States can be found online here.

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The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit

Kentucky Youth Advocates is a non-partisan, non-profit, children’s advocacy organization. KYA represents a voice for Kentucky’s most precious asset – its youth. We believe that Kentucky’s youth deserve the opportunities and resources necessary to ensure their productive development and health. For more information, visit

Fourth Grade Reading Proficiency in the United States features the latest data for states, the District of Columbia and the nation, as does the Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Center, which is home to comprehensive national, state and local statistics on child well-being. KIDS COUNT®is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, launched in May 2010, is a collaborative effort of funders, nonprofit partners, states and more than 140 communities across the nation to ensure that many more children from low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship.