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New push on for child welfare, education

What will it take to get Kentucky out of the bottom 10 states in the nation in children's education, health, safety, juvenile justice, and economic well-being?

Local and state leaders say that it will take new state laws in 2009 that would:

■ Make voluntary preschool available for every child.

■ Require daily physical activity in kindergarten through fifth grade.

■ Determine the accurate school dropout rate and create aggressive programs to keep children from quitting school.

■ Reduce the use of jail time for runaways and others whose offenses would not be crimes if committed by an adult.

■ Prevent unnecessary foster care by helping to preserve and reunify families.

The legislative agenda is part of The Blueprint for Kentucky's Children, a six-year road map for improving child well-being in Kentucky. The Blueprint coalition is made up of more than 100 public and non-profit organizations.

"We cannot seem to get out of the bottom rankings," said Lacey McNary, deputy director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, a state child-advocacy group. "It's time for groups to come together and see that these issues rise to the top."

In the 2008 Kids Count Data Survey, a national and state-by-state effort of the Casey Foundation to track the status of children, Kentucky ranked 41st out of 50 states in education, health, safety, juvenile justice, and economic well-being.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday at Bryan Station High School, officials from United Way of the Bluegrass, Kentucky Youth Advocates and Fayette County schools are to discuss their 2009 agenda for Kentucky's children.

For its part, United Way of the Bluegrass in 2009 will primarily give money to groups that can bring about change in education, income and health, said David Kitchen, director of communications.

"We are looking at which programs can make the most impact," he said.

State Rep. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, called the proposals "exciting," but said that finding money for some of them might not be possible right away.

"It would be hard to make a prediction," Stein said.

Stein said making voluntary preschool available for every 3- and 4-year-old Kentucky child through various kinds of preschools and existing child care providers would be expensive.

"But it would be cost-effective in the long run," she said.

Stu Silberman, the Fayette County Public Schools superintendent, said that Fayette County is already implementing one of the suggestions. The school board passed a wellness policy in 2006 that provided for 30 minutes of physical activity for students each day.

In addition to Lexington's event — called Step Up for Kids Day — five similar events will be held across the state.