It’s about our future, stupid! Debates and the election need to cover kids’ issues
Children are one-quarter of the population and 100 percent of our future, but they were largely missing in the presidential debate, aside from candidate references to their own children. The Des Moines Register’s opinion section presents my guest opinion about the failure to cover kids issues in general.
More specifically, while the debate did uncover differences in philosophy and approach that may well extend to how the president will ensure the health, safety, education, and opportunity for the next generation, the public will not know nor be able to assess candidates on these issues until child policy becomes part of the electoral dialogue. The party platforms themselves reveal very different views toward government’s role in most child policy areas.
On the extended discussion of the economy in the debate, there was no discussion of how to respond to the potentially profound impact of the recession on children, although one in four of America’s youngest children (ages 0-6) now lives in poverty, twice the rate for the adult population and at a particularly critical time in their development.
On health care, the discussion of Medicare dominated and neither candidate put forth a vision of how the 7 million kids currently not insured would get the health services they need for healthy development.
While both candidates expressed support for education and said they would like to invest more, neither really said how or how much – or what commitment would be made to restoring the United States to world leadership in education and workforce preparation. The United States no longer compares favorably to our trading partners and competitors, and business leaders have called for education reform to produce a much more educated workforce for this very reason. Obama did highlight the federal competitive grant program, Race to the Top, while Romney said that, instead of providing federal funding for disadvantaged students and students with disabilities as grants to local public schools, they should be provided to parents in the form of vouchers – but there was no follow-up to explore how these suggest fundamentally different views of public education.
This was not the candidates’ fault. Questions about children simply were not asked in this debate nor has the media raised them as among the core set of issues that candidates need to address. Fortunately, there is time, during the next month, for this to occur. Children may not vote, but surveys show voters care deeply about child policy issues and want more attention drawn to them.
Voices for America’s Children and many of its national colleagues in the field (including the Children’s Defense Fund, Every Child Matters, First Focus, the Children’s Policy Coalition, and the Center for the Next Generation), have information to support voters, child advocates, and the media in raising child policy issues. There is still time in the month ahead to get children on the agenda – and we would all be better for it.
After all, to paraphrase a well-known quip, it’s about our future, stupid!
Charles Bruner, Child and Family Policy Center (Iowa) and Co-Chair of Voices for America’s Children Electoral Advocacy Committee