Best:

1 - Massachusetts

2 - Vermont

3 - Iowa

4 - New Hampshire

5 - Minnesota

Worst:

50 - Mississippi

49 - New Mexico

48 - Nevada

47 - Louisiana

46 - Arizona

Source: Kids Count

South Carolina continues to rank among the worst states in the country when it comes to the welfare of children, particularly in education, where students struggle with reading and math.

Those are among findings in the latest annual report from Kids Count, a national effort by the Annie E. Casey Foundation to highlight the problems facing the nation's children and find solutions. The report, released Tuesday, used data from 2012 to measure child well-being in four areas - economic, education, health, and family and community.

The results for South Carolina reveal that the state has stalled in making improvements to the well-being of its children. For the second year in a row, South Carolina ranked 45th out of 50 states in overall child well-being. The state slipped in the rankings last year from 43 to 45 primarily due to a significant decline in the state's ranking of economic well-being of children from 34th to 44th.

This year's data shows minor improvement in the economic well-being of South Carolina's children, with the state rising from 44th to 41st. According to the report, 27 percent, or 288,000, of the state's children lived in poverty in 2012 compared to 28 percent, or 297,000, in 2011.

"There's definitely a link to our children who live in poverty and their educational attainment in school," said David Smalls, executive director of Communities in Schools South Carolina. "We definitely need to be more conscious of that correlation and how we can help decrease poverty rates while looking to increase graduation rates of our children."

Smalls said the biggest challenge is finding a way to make gains in areas like economics, education and family to break the cycle of poverty and poor academics among the state's children. Communities in Schools focuses on helping at-risk students stay in school and graduate.

"From elementary to middle to high school we're facing those kids who are at risk because of those issues that are society- and community-driven, which affects how they behave in school," he said.

Smalls' point played out in the report as the state dropped for the second straight year in the education category, falling from 41st to 43rd. Data showed 72 percent of fourth-graders in the state were not proficient in reading, while 69 percent of the state's eighth-graders were not proficient in math, which was basically unchanged from last year.

Melissa Strompolis, coordinator of impact assessment and evaluation for Children's Trust of South Carolina, which heads Kids Count in the state, said the continued lack of proficiency among the state's children in reading and math is "shocking." Strompolis said even more concerning is that only 13 percent of black children are proficient in fourth grade reading and eighth grade math.

Strompolis applauded Gov. Nikki Haley's efforts this year to increase state funding for education including $30 million for reading coaches as well as a new state law that will expand kindergarten for 4-year-olds. Children's Trust has partnered with the Institute of Child Success and the United Way of South Carolina to push for even more improvements in early childhood education in the state, she said.

"We see a direct link between education and economic well-being," she said. "We know that if you're not reading well in fourth grade you're probably not doing well in math in eighth grade, and if you're not doing math well in eighth grade you're not likely to graduate high school."

Reach Amanda Kerr at 937-5546 or at Twitter.com/PCAmandaKerr.