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Almost Half of Latino Children Live in States that Spend Less Per Child

Almost half of Latino children in the U.S. are living in states, in the South and West, that are considered "low spending," and it's negatively impacting their educational and health outcomes, according to a report released by the nonprofit Urban Institute on Tuesday.

Image: Fabinee LeChevre, Alejandro Perez
File photo of a Louisiana classroom in 2011. Gerald Herbert / AP

The study found "substantial differences" in how much states spend on children and it's based on geographic factors. The majority of states spending $10,000 or more per child are located in the Northeast while those spending $7,000 or less are found in the South and West. For instance, the highest spending state, which is Vermont, spent $13,430 per child in 2013, which is almost three times more than Utah, which spent $4,590.

Only less than one-fourth of Latino kids live in states that spend a minimum of $8,000 per child.

"Spending differences may contribute to differences in child outcomes among racial/ethnic groups," states the report.

The study looked at 2013 data and examined how much states spent on children in the areas of education, health, income security and social services spending.

Julia Isaacs, the author of the study, told NBC Latino that some of the results of the study surprised her. Having states like Mississippi in mind, she expected that it would be black children who tended to live in low spending states.

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"I thought it was going to be that black children were most disadvantaged. And I was somewhat surprised - maybe I shouldn't have been - that it was Latino and Native American children who were most likely to live in states that spend less than $7,000 per kid," she said.

Latino, American Indian and Alaska Native children are much more likely than non-Latino white and black children to live in states like Arizona, Oklahoma, and South Dakota that spend less per child.

This comes as the nation still grapples with significant gaps when it comes to reading and math proficiency.

While 45 percent of non-Latino white children are proficient in 4th grade reading, that number falls to 20 percent for Latino, American Indian, Alaska Native and black children. In addition, 40 percent of white children are proficient in 8th grade math, while it's 20 percent for Latino, American Indian, Alaska Native and black children.

The study points out that child populations are expected to grow in low-spending states like Florida and Texas while they are declining in sates that spend more per child, like New York and Ohio.

"The takeaway is that if you look at state spending, Vermont spends nearly 3 times as much as Utah. And these differences are expected to grow over time as there is more population growth in the lowest spending states," Isaacs said.

One of the policy implications that worries Isaacs has to do with block grants - giving states a set amount of money and have them administer it for programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that funds food stamps and capping what the federal government spends on them each year. Republicans in Congress have advocated for using block grants.

But because block grants lock in current spending, says Isaacs, children living in low-spending states will be at a greater disadvantage as the state's population increases. This means states will be spending even less per child in the future.

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"So the block grants are particularly bad for states that are seeing a high population growth, which would be a lot of states where many Latino children are living."

If the 35 states that are expected to see population growth would like to maintain current spending per child, they would have to spend an additional $24.4 billion by 2030, the report concluded.

"We take for granted that senior citizens in Arizona receive the same minimum retirement benefits as those in New York," Isaacs wrote in the report. "If we expect equity for seniors living in different states, why are we so accepting of large differences in spending on children."

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