Kids Count! – A Challenge To Our Governor And Legislature

“Now more than ever, the well-being of children lies in the hands of state policymakers. Children now receive relatively little federal government support and what support they do get is highly influenced by the state and local districts in which they live.” – January 18, 2012 –  State  Child and Youth Well-Being Index (CWI): Investing in Public Programs Matters

This just-released annual report from the Foundation for Child Development indicates, “A child’s well-being is strongly related to the state where he or she lives.” The good news is that this year’s report ranked New Jersey number one among all states in the State Child and Youth Well-Being Index (CWI). The bad news is that this study presents results for 2007 (the most recent year for which data are available from the National Survey of Children’s Health), and in recent years Governor Christie has reduced State expenditures and sought less federal matching funds. As the legislature and Governor Christie grapple with next year’s budget, the message is clear: state investment in children matters.  

CWI is a national, research-based composite measure, updated annually. It combines data from 28 indicators into a single number that reflects overall child well-being. The report points out that state and local tax rates, annual TANF benefit per child, Medicaid eligibility as a percentage of federal poverty level, charging a premium for child health coverage programs, and education spending per pupil showed a significant correlation with overall child well-being.

NJ ranks highest because of the direct relationship the report finds between higher state taxes, larger investments in key public programs and higher child well-being. In specific categories the report ranks us as third in states with the highest reading at or above the Reading Scores Proficient Level, and as fifth in graduating students from college. Again this is 2007 data. More recently we know that Christie has reduced school funding, failed to provide needed additional support for higher education, and lost Race to the Top monies. He has sought to reduce Medicaid coverage to adults in a family and to single mothers raising children. Since 2009 he has expressed disdain toward funding preschools. Last year he cut $3 million that Democrats tried to restore for after school programs.

This report can be viewed as a slap in the face to Governor Christie whose mantra is to downsize state government, cut taxes, and reduce funding for children. More important now is what he and the legislature will do to assure a strong future for kids in our state. Senator Teresa Ruiz (D-29) and Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan(D-18) are chairs of their respective Education Committees. The report concludes, “As states prepare their 2013 budgets, policymakers must recognize that the costs of shortchanging children today is too high a price to pay in the future. Public disinvestments in children have real consequences for generating future tax revenues and for bearing the costs of supporting unhealthy and poorly educated adults. When states invest in programs that benefit children and families and contribute to their well-being, children and families are better off.” Indeed, funding matters and kids count!  

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