FRANKFORT – Kentucky received some great news last month when a national study found that no state had a smaller gap when comparing the high school graduation rates of students from low- and higher-income families.
The average gap across the country stands at 15 percent, but it’s just one percent here in the commonwealth. In fact, our low-income students graduate at a higher rate than the overall national average, something only five other states can say.
This news speaks volumes about the good work our schools and students are doing, especially when considering Kentucky’s relatively high poverty rate. Reports like these also help show us where we are doing well and where we need to improve.
Fortunately, there is a publication that comes out each year that puts a lot of these state rankings in one location. It has more than 500 50-state comparisons in categories ranging from education and criminal justice to agriculture and the economy.
In most cases, we tend to fall roughly in the middle of the states, beginning with our population. We have a few more people than Oregon and not quite as many as Louisiana, for example. Geographically, we rank lower at 37th. Our 40,000-plus square miles put us, appropriately enough, between Tennessee and Indiana.
We’re also among the bottom half of states in the number of sunny days, which occur here about every other day on average. We are warmer than most states, however, with only 16 having a greater daily average temperature.
We rank a little higher when measuring the percentage of native-born citizens still living here. Almost three out of four of our residents fit in that category, which is far better than Nevada, where less than a third of its citizens are native-born.
In education, we fall about in the middle of the state rankings in the number of children attending our elementary and secondary schools, which teach about 677,000 overall. Our student-teacher ratio is also just a hair over the national average.
Academically, our fourth graders made the top 10 in reading last year, while eighth graders were tied at 17th with their counterparts in Iowa, Maine, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia and Wyoming.
Math was a tougher subject. Our fourth graders landed in 25th place, but the eighth graders were tied with Georgia at 38th.
We slightly trail the national average in the rate of adults 18 to 24 who are pursuing a postsecondary degree, but we have a lot of work to reach that same threshold when it comes to increasing the number of Kentuckians with a bachelor’s degree. On the plus side, fewer college students graduate with debt here than they do nationally.
Economically, we rank fifth among the states in the percentage of workforce in manufacturing, and these employees work more hours a week than similar employees in any other state. They also earn more, with their weekly pay ranked fourth highest.
In other good news, our overall crime rate trailed the national average in 2014, and we were 44th when just looking at the violent-crime rate. Five southern states, meanwhile, were among the top 10 highest.
We also have one of the lowest juvenile arrest rates, which is less than half of the national average, and we have one of the lowest rates of identity-theft complaints.
In the field of healthcare, we have almost 12,000 physicians and a greater rate of nurses per 100,000 people than most other states.
There are, as I mentioned, many other statistics, and while they may not fully explain why Kentucky is the best place in which to live, they do give us a lot of information that can help us make that case. My fellow lawmakers and I also depend on these rankings to see which areas may need more attention from the state. It may not be possible to land at the top in every major economic and educational category, but that’s the goal we’re trying to reach.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.