Sobering News Amidst The Glad

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The Annie E. Casey Foundation has once again shocked us out of our idyllic mountain contentment with its sad assessment of the welfare of children as a whole in Arizona.

While we in the Rim country rightfully rejoice in the accomplishments of the recently graduated Class of 1999 at Payson High School, the Casey Foundation's 1999 Kids Count Data Book reminds us that all is not so well in the rest of the state.

According to the foundation's report, Arizona's overall ranking on conditions for children dropped from 42nd to 46th worst in the nation in 1996.

Here are some of the alarming facts: Arizona ranked 50th in high school dropout rate; 50th in percent of children without health insurance; 48th in teen birth rate; 46th in percent of children living in poverty; and 44th in rate of teen deaths by accident, homicide and suicide.

As with any survey filled with statistics, there are exceptions that shine above the gloomy numbers. We are fortunate in the Rim country to have many young people who are rising above the statistics. But there are so many more throughout our state that are stumbling along with little hope and little help.

It is encouraging that since 1996 there is a new sense of urgency among our leading state officials. Our governor and many of our state legislators recognize that troubled children eventually become everybody's problem. The Legislature has passed recent initiatives aimed at improving public education and expanding efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect.

As Rep. Carolyn Allen said, "We cannot just stand by and watch while parents struggle and children suffer." We all must do all we can to help, and that includes our state government. Let our state officials know that every bill they consider should have our children as the top priority.

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