The weatherman cooperated. Citizens from throughout the Commonwealth – hundreds of them – showed up. The atmospherics were great – the Blue Apple Players performing a scene from “Lincoln”; a high school dance team jazzing up the scene; and, young people talking about public policy issues like human trafficking and a smoke-free environment that count in their lives. And the 9th Children’s Advocacy Day kicked off.
The sun may have been shining bright on our old Kentucky Capitol, yet it’s not shining so brightly on our children these days and that is what Children’s Advocacy Day is really about. It’s about connecting with like minded and like hearted citizens. It’s about young people getting a relevant and authentic taste of civic engagement. It’s about showing elected leaders that kids do count in Kentucky. But for me, the 2013 Children’s Advocacy Day is mostly about asking essential questions:
1. Why do we continue to make penny-wise and pound-foolish decisions? That is what we have done when it comes to child care subsidy and kinship care cuts. These decisions are bad for families today and bad for the budget tomorrow.
2. Will lawmakers and the Governor have the political guts to craft an external fatality review panel that protects kids and is truly independent? That means clear protocols; that means a level of transparency that gives the process credibility; and, perhaps as important as any cornerstone, that means that the panel must be located outside the Administration to ensure independence. Other states have achieved those standards and are making an impact on kids. Will Kentucky?
3. When will we face up to the issue of budget inadequacy for kids? I get it – the haunting question is always, “Do we have a spending problem or a revenue problem?” I can’t answer that for the horse industry or agriculture. I can answer it for kids. Kentucky’s children are underserved and under-resourced. If a budget is really a reflection of priorities, then our kids are undervalued. There are more than a few ways to tackle that issue. Maybe the Governor needs to look a little harder under the sofa cushions to find discretionary change. Maybe the General Assembly needs to re-open the budget with an eye for kids. Or maybe – and this is really the bold and long-term way to go – the Governor should call a Special Session, in which children are the sole agenda item and adequate and sustainable resources are found. As an example, what would happen if we enacted a state Earned Income Tax Credit? This would help families close the gap between what they earn and what it takes to make ends meet. This helps to get and keep people working, which is what we all want.
When those questions are answered in the affirmative, then maybe we can achieve that common vision we hold at Kentucky Youth Advocates – to make Kentucky the best place in America to be young. When that vision becomes a reality, that is a Children’s Advocacy Day I want to attend!