The state’s child poverty rate declined for the first time in five years, falling from 18 percent to 17 percent, according to the latest KIDS COUNT report from the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

The drop likely won’t have a big impact on schools and doesn’t bring Colorado to pre-recession child poverty levels, but represents a bright spot after years of depressing news.

“That was certainly an encouraging number for me,” said Chris Watney, president and CEO of the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

The annual report, which this year is 172 pages and includes 11 new data topics, tracks the state’s progress on child health, education, and well-being. It’s part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s national KIDS COUNT project.

New data

Among the report’s new topics this year are “Adverse Childhood Experiences,” which include poverty, domestic violence, or the death of a parent. A growing body of research indicates that such experiences are risk factors for health problems, difficulties in school, poor quality of life and premature death.

The topic has garnered increasing attention in recent years and is driving national conversations about how to mitigate the alarming long-term effects of childhood trauma.

New in Kids Count this year

The data below are among 11 new additions to the 2015 report:

  • Non-medical use of painkillers among teens (Page 50)
  • Mental health and mental health disparities by race/ethnicity and gender (Pages 52-53)
  • Adverse childhood experiences (Page 56)
  • Child care capacity by county (Page 63)
  • Homeless students by school district type (Page 74)
  • Suspensions and expulsions by race/ethnicity and district type (Pages 83-84)

According to KIDS COUNT, 20 percent of Colorado children under 18 have had two or more adverse childhood experiences. That figure grows to 31 percent for children living in poverty and drops to 9 percent for children from affluent families.

Top counties retain their rankings

As usual, KIDS COUNT illustrates vast differences in child well-being from county to county. Perhaps nowhere is that clearer than in the report’s annual ranking of child well-being in the state’s 25 most populous counties.

The top six counties — Douglas, Elbert, Broomfield, Boulder, Larimer and Jefferson counties — were exactly the same as last year. In some cases, they are close neighbors to low-ranking counties like Denver and Adams. The ranking is based on a variety of health, education, family, and economic indicators.

Overall child well-being rankings of Colorado's 25 most populous counties.
Overall child well-being rankings of Colorado’s 25 most populous counties.

Denver, which has always been in the bottom spot before this year, moved up to 24th by switching places with Montezuma County. Five other counties, including Summit, El Paso, Eagle, Garfield and Adams, improved their ranking by at least two spots.

Meanwhile, Teller, La Plata and Fremont all fell in the ranking by at least two spots. Mesa County experienced the biggest drop, falling five spots to 17th. (Logan County also fell two spots, but the report’s authors say the ranking should be considered cautiously because of a data anomaly.)

Education highlights

Other key findings related to education:

  • In 2012, Colorado spent an average of $2,715 less per pupil than the national average, a gap that’s grown every year since 2008.
  • Last year, 75,687 or 9 percent of Colorado’s public school students attended a school in the lowest two state accountability categories — Priority Improvement or Turnaround.
  • This year, 74 percent of the state’s kindergarteners attend full-day programs, up from 40 percent in 2007-08.
  • Wide achievement gaps (28-29 percentage points) continue to exist between Colorado’s low-income and higher-income students in math and reading proficiency. The 2014 reading gap narrowed by three percentage point since 2004 and the math gap widened by a percentage point during that time.
  • While boys have historically performed better than girls in math, that gap was virtually gone in 2014. Meanwhile, boys lag significantly behind girls in reading proficiency (10 percentage points lower) and writing (15 percentage points lower).
  • Last year, black students were more likely to be suspended or expelled than any other racial or ethnic group, experiencing nearly three times the suspensions and expulsions that white students did.