California has the largest child population, but the state ranks near the bottom -- 41st in the nation -- when it comes to children's well-being, according to a report released Wednesday.

In fact, California is failing in three out of four measures that gauge health and well-being, says a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2012 KIDS COUNT Data Book, released in partnership with Children Now, an Oakland-based nonprofit advocacy group. Each state was graded according to 16 indicators of economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

California ranked 23rd in health but failed to rise above the bottom 10 in the other categories. It came in last in the percentage of household income available for living necessities other than housing, and last for heads of households with high school diplomas.

"These numbers are particularly disturbing, given over one in 10 of the nation's children lives in California," said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now. "The last couple of years have seen California children bearing the brunt of the state's budget cuts. We must hold the state's policymakers more accountable for failing to invest in children, because their poor decisions will certainly have a lasting effect on the economic and civic fabric of our state."

The Golden State earned its lowest ranking -- 45th -- in economic well being.

According to the research, more than half of California's children live in households that spend at least 30 percent of their income on housing, leaving many families struggling to pay for food, clothing and health care. Due in part to the economic recession, more than a third of parents lack secure employment and 22 percent of children live in poverty.


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Some parents don't make enough to put food on the table, said James Wogan, who works with homeless families in the Mt. Diablo school district in Contra Costa County.

"You need to make about $18 per hour and work 40 hours a week to survive in this county," he said. "Many people are making $8 an hour and working 80 hours a week."

California ranked 42nd in education, with three-quarters of its fourth-graders not reading proficiently and three-quarters of its eighth-graders not proficient in math. To help improve these statistics, school districts such as Mt. Diablo in Contra Costa County and nonprofit organizations such as the Silicon Valley Education Foundation in Santa Clara County have partnered with outside agencies for summer programs to give students college or career skills.

The Mt. Diablo CARES program -- or Collaborative for Academics, Recreation and Enrichment for Students -- received a grant that pays high school students a stipend to work in an organic garden at Mt. Diablo High in Concord, where restaurant owner Cindy Gershen teaches students to cook healthy meals with their crops.

Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of Public Instruction, toured an algebra program Wednesday in San Jose that teaches students to relate what they're learning to careers in science, technology, engineering and math. The Silicon Valley Education Foundation has funded similar programs in several schools, said Muhammed Chaudhry, foundation CEO and president.

"The highest correlation between college graduation in five years and what you do in high school and middle school is algebra," he said, "so we know that investing in math is important."

If voters don't approve tax measures on the November ballot, California's education rank could drop even lower because districts may slash up to three weeks of instruction, said Terri Jackson, a sixth-grade teacher at Stewart Elementary in Pinole.

"Cutting the school year shorter doesn't help the situation," she said.

HOW STATE RANKS
Category Rank
Economic well-being 45
Education 43
Family and community 42
Health 23
Overall well-being 41
More information about the ranks, including breakdowns within California by county, Congressional districts and cities, is available by visiting datacenter.kidscount.org/CA.
For additional details about East Bay counties, read the On Assignment blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.