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COLUMBIA, SC -- South Carolina remained stuck in 45th place in the nation in the well-being of its children in the annual Kids Count report, with poverty and education being the main factors that kept the state five spots from the bottom for the second year in a row.

The multi-faceted analysis of data related to economic well-being, education, health, and family and community was released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The state ranked 41st in economic well-being, 43rd in education and health and 41st in family and community, with improvement made in all categories except economic well-being.

The report said 288,000 children, or 27 percent of the state's children, live in poverty; 67,000 or 57 percent of children of preschool age aren't attending preschool; and 437,000 or 43 percent of all kids in South Carolina live in single-parent homes.

A solid band of states across the southern half of the nation from South Carolina to California ranked in the bottom tier, while four New England states, several mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states ranked at the top.

Although South Carolina as a whole is above only Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico and Mississippi in the overall ranking, Greenville County is close to or better than the national average in many measures.

Nationally, 8 percent of teenagers age 16-19 aren't attending school and not working. In Greenville County, it's 7.1 percent. Statewide, it's 9.1 percent.

Of children living in poverty, the national average is 23 percent. In Greenville County, it's 23.2 percent, compared to 27 percent statewide.

The Greenville County School District is heading up a program that helps address childhood hunger during the summer, called the Seamless Summer Option, according to district spokesman Oby Lyles.

Nearly 900 children are getting a free lunch every weekday at one of 29 sites in the county, but that's a decrease from more than 1,100 last year, even though the program is available at more sites, he said.

More than 500 are getting their breakfast at one of 21 sites, also down from 645 last year, he said.

Several local and corporate organizations are working to address the problems pointed out in Kids Count.

Public Education Partners of Greenville County has embarked on a project called Make Summer Count that includes giving away 820,000 books over four summers, according to Grier Mullins, executive director.

In May, more than 10,000 students in the county's elementary schools with the greatest needs picked out 12 books each that they could keep to start their own home library, Mullins said. During the summer, they got to pick out four more books each.

"For many of these children, this is the very first time they have owned their own books," she said.

When it's time to go back to school next month, they will get a backpack with supplies.

"We have had great parent response, even in our communities that struggle the most," she said.

Greenville County students also are among recipients of a program run by AT&T called Aspire, a $350 million national educational initiative aimed at improving students' chances for success in high school, according to spokesman Justin Rouse.

As part of the initiative, the company announced Monday at a White House event that it is committing $18 million for a mentoring program in which AT&T employees work with students in South Carolina and elsewhere to help them finish high school, he said.

Employees volunteered 2,885 mentoring hours and the company spent more than $195,000 in the mentoring program in South Carolina last year, according to Rouse.

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