Elections are an opportune time to ensure that elected officials prioritize the needs of children and families. Decisions to vote for one candidate over another can change or maintain the trajectory of the government and the decisions that will take place over the next two, four, or six years – decisions that may have significantly longer implications.
Televised debates provide an opportunity for large portions of the population to hear from candidates on key issue areas. Thus far, televised debates for the 2012 elections have been among the Republican Presidential candidates and priorities related to children have been practically nonexistent from the conversation. A recent report by Voices for America’s Children – Michigan’s Children’s national affiliate – found that in the first twenty Republican Presidential debates, of the over 1000 questions asked by moderators, less than two percent have focused on child policy issues. This is despite the fact that the federal budget includes over $374 billion in investments in child health, safety, education and security.
Why should candidates be talking about key children’s issues like high quality early childhood education, K-12 education, high school dropout prevention and recovery opportunities, access to health care, and family security? The single best predictor of economic prosperity is a state’s success in educating and preparing its workforce. Growing educated and skilled workers and leaders in the 21st Century starts at birth and extends through young adulthood – from cradle to career. The right mental, emotional and physical supports make all the difference in preparing children to succeed in school and life. Unfortunately in Michigan, we struggle to do this.
Twenty-two percent of Michigan children live in poverty and even more devastating is the one in ten children who live in extreme poverty – this means that in an average size classroom, about three students are living in households with an annual income of $8,784 or less (for a family of three). Child poverty rates are even higher for children of color and the correlation between poverty, race/ethnicity, and child outcomes is clear – low-income children and children of color have less opportunities to access a consistent source of medical care, high quality early childhood programs, and a high quality K-12 education and are more likely to struggle in school and life. Improving child outcomes for all children by strengthening public policies is critical to Michigan’s economic recovery and should be a top priority for elected officials.
So how do voters learn about candidates’ positions on key children’s issues? Candidate information is everywhere during an election year – on TV, on billboards, in the news, on the radio, and even at your door as they and their supporters canvass neighborhoods. But the best way to learn candidates’ positions is by talking directly to them to learn their views and policy priorities; and once elected, the relationship is already in place to continue to have conversations with elected officials on issues that matter to constituents. Unfortunately, this level of relationship building isn’t an option that’s feasible to many individuals – particularly children and families of color most affected by public programs – who for a variety of reasons are disengaged from the process.
In the upcoming months, Michigan’s Children will work with our federal, state and local partners to keep you updated on election advocacy opportunities. We’ll be working with our national partners to ensure that child policy issues are included in televised debates, we’ll be providing you with an easy-to-use to toolkit on how to get engaged in election advocacy and we’ll work with our partners to inform you of opportunities to engage with candidates in your local communities. And most importantly, Michigan’s Children will continue to promote your routine engagement in policy discussions after the elections and beyond.
Stay tuned for more!