In 1919, two English sisters founded “Save the Children” to aid European children suffering from near starvation at the end of World War I.
During the past century, this worldwide charity has grown to help over a billion children in times of crisis. It earns a four-star rating from Charity Navigator because it spends only 6 percent of donations administering the organization.
As Americans, we are supportive of such charities and similar efforts, especially when children are involved, in part because we are a compassionate people, and also because some of us want fewer taxes and oppose government programs.
But there are times, such as now, when private charities can’t deal with all the world crises caused by natural disasters, wars, climate change, and COVID-19.
And they shouldn’t have to.
If the mission of government is to protect people, and if “children are our future,” as we like to say, it is clear that helping children should be a political issue, that is to say, an issue which politicians should address with laws and financial support, even if that requires tax money.
It is currently budget time in our old Kentucky home. Since we have an unexpected surplus and are considering the welfare of children, it might be interesting to look at how our children are doing today.
Are we “saving our children”?
I have statistical data from two parts of our state, independent school districts in both Murray and Covington, in Western and Northern Kentucky. The source is www.kyschoolsreportcard.com. The news is less than great.
In the Covington Independent school district in Northern Kentucky, 82.7% of students were considered “economically disadvantaged” during 2020-2021, thus eligible for free and reduced lunches. In our local Murray Independent school district, 45.3% were eligible for these programs.
Equally troubling were some of the kindergarten readiness figures in the two districts. In Covington, 48.5 entered kindergarten with below average language development, and 86.9 were below average in cognitive development. In the Murray city schools, 25.8% entered kindergarten with below average language development, and 52% had below average cognitive development.
These are independent school districts, one urban and the other in a smaller town. My point is NOT to compare them with each other, but to point out the fact that students in both districts (and many others) could benefit from more help from the state, especially financial, and especially when we do have the funds to do so this year.
These are statistics of which no Kentuckian should be proud. It should embarrass us to see half or more of the students in each district enter kindergarten with below average language development. Roughly half of students in both districts also seem to be cognitively unready for kindergarten.
These statistics also reflects the historic unwillingness of the Commonwealth to properly value early education.
What we can, and should, do to save our children
The fact that the General Assembly is now in session gives our legislators another opportunity to provide the funds for “saving our children.” For example, they could fund universal pre-kindergarten, which Governor Beshear has asked for. They could also allocate money for all-day kindergarten, as both Republicans and Democrats have supported. Studies have shown that pre-school classes help many students be more successful in much-needed all-day Kindergarten and beyond.
What a great chance for bi-partisan cooperation in our otherwise deeply divided state!
The governor’s budget also provides a hundred million more for colleges and universities than does the House budget, but I understand the wisdom of helping the youngest of our children first, given the importance of education in those early years — maybe even more important with COVID giving us less in-person school time.
And the “Save the Children” Foundation would agree with me. On their website they proclaim “We do whatever it takes for children — every day and in times of crisis — transforming their lives and the future we share. When a crisis occurs, we are among the first to respond to emergency and the last to leave.”
Repeated cuts to education in Kentucky are edging us ever closer to emergency conditions in our schools. Instead of putting larger sums in the rainy-day fund, current legislators should recognize that not doing the best job we can to educate our future generations will bring much heavier “rain” in the future.