Invest in Children: A Banner Week for the Cause

Who knew what a week could bring?  Here’s to those who speak—loudly and clearly—on the need to invest in our young ones:

February 25New York Times columnist Charles Blow  weighed in on babies, railing against Republicans who support children’s right to life, but abandon them in the womb and in the world.    He reminded us that the U.S. now has the highest infant mortality rate of the 33 countries described by the International Monetary Fund as “advanced economies,” a dubious distinction due, in part, to the increase of premature births, which began to rise in the 1990s.  While that rate fell in 2008, the budget recently passed in the House promises to undo the gains, with its $50 million in cuts to the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant and $1 billion to programs at the National Institutes of Health.

February 27: Nobel-prize-winning economist Paul Krugman  railed about “leaving children behind,” taking Republican politicians to task for holding children hostage to deficit reduction. “The burden always seems to fall disproportionately on those very children they claim to hold so dear,” he wrote, highlighting Texas, a model of small government, where low taxes and low expenditures on children have resulted in a high school graduation rate of 61.3 percent, placing Texas 43rd out of 50 in state rankings.  Not to mention a ranking of five in child poverty.

March 2: Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke, at the Annual Awards Dinner of the Citizens Budget Commission, in New York, advocated against cuts to education spending. He urged “adequate investment in human capital—that is, in the knowledge and skills of our people,” citing K-12 and post-secondary schooling as crucial to building the workforce, and capped this music to our ears with a reminder about the benefits of early childhood education, whose payoff, he noted can be “especially high.”  Clearly he’s been listening to James Heckman, who has been forcefully linking early childhood education to deficit reduction for eons.

Meanwhile, down in the trenches, where policy gets made, the priorities couldn’t be more skewed.  While the Pentagon makes peace with the reduction of its war-spending request of $159 billion to a mere $117 billion for fiscal year 2012, domestic spending is taking a multi-billion-dollar hit.  House Republicans have approved a bill that cuts more than $60 billion from current spending levels to fund the government for the remaining seven months of the fiscal year—including billions of cuts to critical programs for children and families.

In the appendix to his new book, Kids First, Berkeley policy professor David Kirp lays out a budget for investments in children, including parent support, early education, community schools, mentoring, and child savings accounts.  He estimates the total annual cost of a kids-first agenda to be between $46 billion and $67 billion—a fraction of a percent of the federal budget.  Though modest about his proposal—he is not an economist—Kirp is jumpstarting a critical conversation, daring us to envision a radically different calculus for investing in our children.  

We need to take up the gauntlet and think big and bold.  And, while we’re doing so, make sure to raise our voices against the cuts this week!


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