New national statistics on the well-being of children in the U.S. show Alaska near the bottom of the ranks for education. The 2019 Kids Count Data Book released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks the state 49th in the category, just ahead of New Mexico.

During the announcement of the data Monday, president and CEO of Alaska Children's Trust Trevor Storrs said the state's children are suffering. Along with the low-ranking for education, the Alaska ranked last in the nation for children's health.

According to the study, only 37% of Alaska's ages 3 and 4 attend a form of prekindergarten schooling from 2013 to 2017; 64% of the same age group were not in school at all from 2015 to 2017.

Other indicators listed under the education category in the study for Alaska were:

•     fourth-graders not proficient in reading - 72% in 2017
•     eighth-graders not proficient in math - 71% in 2017 
•     high school students not graduating on time - 22% in 2016-17

Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop said the district is working to improve and provide more access to pre-K education.

That means making sure that those programs are affordable for all families. The data book states although Head Start and state-funded programs have expanded since the 1990s and increased access to pre-K education, many low-income families have been left out, worsening socioeconomic divides in learning. According to Alaska statistics in the data book, 59% of mothers of 3-year-old children surveyed stated high costs were a barrier to preferred types of child care.

"It's really that lower-middle-class area that really, we found in our studies that aren't having access," she said, adding ASD has applied for and received grants to help offset costs.

To improve numbers, ASD is taking a proactive approach to get more children enrolled in preschool. Getting children in preschool, experts say, will have a long-term positive effect on their learning, pulling Alaska out of the bottom rankings. 

"We know through evidence, strong evidence that having a preschool experience matters, quality preschool," Bishop said.

In the long run, funding preschool could potentially save the state money. 

"We know that for every dollar we invest in early childhood, we save up to $7 long term," Storrs said. "However, Alaska invests very little in early childhood compared to our investment in things like the correctional system."

Bishop said addressing issues of food insecurity is another avenue to set up students for success. At home, both parents and children can decrease screen time. The superintendent suggests replacing it with quality time interacting and engaging as a family.

Jes Stugelmayer contributed to this report.

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