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Situational awareness: Los Angeles County today declared a health emergency with seven coronavirus cases, joining San Francisco and Orange County, per the LA Times. Cases of coronavirus are now in 13 states, with a total of nine U.S. deaths, all occurring in Washington state.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
Many of America's cities are gaining population, but the number of school-aged children is dwindling as families opt for the suburbs.
Why it matters: A growing body of research shows the strong link between the environment where kids grow up and their ability to thrive as adults. Yet the gap between the haves and have-nots is becoming more pronounced in city centers, driving middle-class families out.
By the numbers: In 2018, about 12% of children 17 and under lived in the central or principal city of a metropolitan area, down from 14.6% in 2010.
Zooming in: In Boston, the population of school-aged children has dropped by nearly half since 1970, per a report by The Boston Foundation. Even though the city has gained about 46,000 new households in the past 40 years, just 1,000 of them have children.
Government programs that target children yield higher returns on investment than programs geared toward adults, according to research by Harvard University economists Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser, who studied 133 federal and local policy changes.
The business case: Some local governments are partnering with the private sector and philanthropies to fill funding gaps for education or health programs, and even financing for parks.
What to watch: Children are among the hardest to count in a census, especially those under 5.
Noah Goliday in his pre-K class in Washington, D.C. Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images
Communities are starting to prioritize pre-kindergarten programs to boost children's school performance — as well as to provide quality child care for parents who work.
Why it matters: "This is more than just an educational issue. It's a public health issue, an economic and workforce development issue, and a child poverty issue," said Olivia Allen, project manager at the Children's Funding Project.
By the numbers: Nationally, 33% of 4-year-olds and 5% of 3-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded preschool in the 2016–2017 school year, per the National Institute for Early Education Research.
In Texas, half-day pre-K programs were available for households with incomes below 185% of the poverty threshold. But it wasn't workable for families that needed full-time care.
Pre-K programs have also been shown to help mothers re-enter the workforce.
The big question for most cities is how to pay for preschool programs. Cobbling together enough money to pay teachers a living wage continues to be a challenge.
The good news: "Once it's there, it's not an area where either political party looks to cut," said J. Ryan McMahon, county executive of New York's Onondaga County, which includes Syracuse. "If you can prove metrics, you can have good results."
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
Parents are pressuring their communities for better preparedness, resources and action plans to keep their children safe in schools, Axios' Marisa Fernandez writes.
Why it matters: Deadly school shootings in the U.S. are on the rise.
Between the lines: To help prevent violence, most districts are focused on protecting students who are suicidal and helping students deal with conflict.
"It’s really the connection that the students have with the people in the school that really make a difference when you look at prevention."— John Kelly, school psychologist and past president of the National Association of School Psychologists
The big picture: Most of the 250 relevant bills introduced across the U.S. address physical measures like metal detectors or law enforcement officers.
What they're doing:
The bottom line: Parents ranked school safety the top priority over several academic opportunities like AP testing and tutoring, the Dallas Morning News polled in December.
An overwhelming majority of schools in the U.S. lack nurses and counselors to help students in need, per a 2019 ACLU report from Education Department data on every school district, writes Marisa.
Why it matters: Children are reporting just as much stress as adults, with one in three admitting to feeling depressed.
Go deeper: U.S. schools prepare for coronavirus spread
Jalen Walker heads to football practice using service from the company HopSkipDrive with driver Jacqueline Bouknight in Springfield, Virginia, last April. Photo: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images.
Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports: When startups set out to become the “Uber for kids” several years ago, they predicted parents would use them to ferry children to and from school and activities — but they’ve since found a much bigger customer: schools.
The big picture: Companies like HopSkipDrive and Zum are getting much of their business from schools using their services to replace or supplement traditional school buses, especially for students with special needs or for trips outside of existing routes.
How it works: The drivers are contractors, but with a twist: They’re required to have child-care experience and pass rigorous background checks, including fingerprinting. In short: they’re babysitters with cars.
What they’re saying: Garvey School District chief business officer Grace Garner told the Washington Post last year that her school district in Rosemead, California, saved more than half a million dollars in the first year of switching from buses to Zum, and cut down the commute of many special education students from 45 minutes to 15.
Between the lines: These companies' success underscores the undeniable gap in transportation suitable for kids, especially in suburbs and other less dense areas where public transit may not be accessible or safe.
Yes, but: As with other ride-hailing companies, questions remain about how environmentally friendly it is to have private cars shuttling kids to and from school rather than a large bus.
A cul-de-sac ends among pads for new home construction left dormant in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images.
The cul-de-sac has been a staple of urban development — and families' real estate wish lists — for the last 50 years. Now some cities are banning them from new developments.
Why it matters: Street-network sprawl determines a city's energy footprint.
What's happening: City planners are encouraging denser street grids in new communities and redevelopments, or they could place a tax on three-way-intersections, or a "cul-de-tax," to change street design habits, write researchers Christopher Barrington-Leigh and Adam Millard-Ball in a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Liberty Playground, funded in part by Liberty Mutual Insurance, is a universally accessible playground in Plano, Texas. Photo: Cooper Neill/Getty Images for Liberty Mutual Insurance
Parks are becoming part of a city's infrastructure to provide environmental, social and economic roles in addition to recreation.
The big picture: After decades of a lack of investment into parks, planners are reimagining how they can use spaces that were previously unattractive.
What's happening: Sharing the cost across utilities, health and housing programs, and economic development initiatives has made it easier to pay for parks with multiple funding sources.
The parks serve multiple purposes: playgrounds for recreation, linear parks for pedestrian and cycling routes, reservoirs for stormwater management, or central squares for pop-up fairs and gatherings.
What they're saying:
"Cities are doing this to remain economically competitive to attract families and young workers who eventually create their own families. But they're also making sure they're creating opportunities for existing residents who have weathered the storms of disinvestment."— Catherine Nagel, CEO of City Parks Alliance
See you next week!