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In today’s data-driven age, there is no shortage of comparative lists that states can use to check the progress they’re making. The rankings may not shed much light individually, but when enough are brought together, a much clearer picture begins to emerge.
With that in mind, Kentucky and 14 of her fellow southern states got a chance earlier this summer to see how each stacks up in some especially crucial areas.
The rankings were compiled by the Southern Legislative Conference, which brings together state legislators from across the region to discuss ideas and which also serves as a clearing house for information.
Overall, Kentucky has a lot going in its favor. Although much of the information is relatively dated – a necessity to ensure apples-to-apples comparisons – that doesn’t undercut the positive direction we’re seeing on many fronts.
In education, for example, we stand tall in a variety of areas. Our eighth graders are tops in reading, and fourth graders are second in that subject and science as well, trailing only Virginia in both cases. Both grades are among the leaders in math, too, and in high school, only three states saw a higher graduation rate than Kentucky during the 2009-10 school year.
In corrections, we have made phenomenal progress in recent years because of an array of smart-on-crime reforms that the General Assembly has championed.
From July 2011 to July 2012, no southern state saw its prison population drop faster than ours, which declined nearly eight percent. Only two states came close to that figure, while Georgia went in the opposite direction, growing by 9.6 percent.
When you look at the total number of state inmates – counting those housed in county jails as well as prisons – we had nearly 480 per 100,000 citizens as of last summer. That’s almost half the rate found in Louisiana, which leads in this category. Since we’re similar in size population-wise, that means they have about twice as many prisoners as we do.
It is worth noting that, here in Kentucky, our recidivism rate after reform went down about four percent from the previous year, meaning fewer prisoners are finding themselves back in jail after they are released. The rate is at its lowest in more than a decade. At the same time, murders, rapes, robberies, assaults, burglaries and arson cases were all down from fall 2011 to fall 2012, offering more proof that we’re safer as well.
Another major area reviewed by the Southern Legislative Conference is transportation. Comparisons there show we have a higher percentage of interstate miles than all but three states – Florida, Missouri and Virginia – which is no surprise since Kentucky is a focal point in the nation’s transportation system.
Interestingly, no state has a smaller percentage of young drivers out on the road than we do. In fact, our rate is less than half of that found in such states as Oklahoma, Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee.
On the other hand, drivers here tend to hit the road more often than in most other southern states, and we also have more vehicles per licensed driver than many of the others as well.
Two transportation-related areas where we are unfortunately near the bottom are the percentage of substandard bridges – we’re 13th among the 15 states – and highway fatalities, where we rank 11th. Those are crucial issues that need greater attention in the years ahead.
Since we’re making comparisons, it is worth noting that, just last week, we learned that only one state in the nation – New Hampshire – saw its exports grow at a faster rate than Kentucky’s during the first six months of this year. Our exports are up 12 percent over the same timeframe in 2012, which is significant since that was a banner year for us.
Before ending, I want to note that the General Assembly returned to the Capitol this week for what will hopefully be a short legislative session to finalize new district boundaries for seats in the House and Senate.
I will discuss what impact this will have on us next week, when we will have a clearer idea of what may happen.
For now, please feel free to let me know your thoughts on any issue affecting the state. You can reach me by writing to Room 329A, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.
You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 1-800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 1-800-896-0305. I hope to hear from you soon.