This post was originally posted as an op-ed in the Courier Journal on November 26, 2019. Check out additional op-eds featured in the Courier Journal highlighting KIDS COUNT data from a youth formerly in foster care Christopher Hagans, school nurse Eva Stone, education leaders Dr. David Johnson and Dr. Leon Mooneyhan, and child care center director Kristie Dover.
“So now what happens?”
That’s the question posed by one of my twin 9-year-old granddaughters the day after the Nov. 5 election. Kendall and Karson surprised me by how engaged they were around the governor’s race. They even wrote letters to each candidate — and are still waiting for responses by the way — on what they deemed the key issue around education: that “homework meant kids had to work overtime, and it also didn’t teach them a thing! So why doesn’t the governor just end it!”
On November 6, they posed that “what’s next?” question, and maybe that is the question we all should be asking in both fear and in hope.
For the first time ever, here we are with a Democratic governor and a Republican-controlled state Senate and House. Then there is that looming biennial state budget. And pervasive is an atmosphere, animated by both federal and state issues, that seems far more bifurcated than unified on everything and anything.
I have stated frequently that honorable disagreements are honorable. Yet in a seemingly turbulent sea of dissension, I am going to continue to pound the hypothesis that Kentucky kids offer Gov.-elect Andy Beshear, Senate President Robert Stivers, Speaker of the House David Osborne and the dozens of other key elected officials a chance to cultivate a common ground record of progress.
As our recently released 2019 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book shows us, while the commonwealth has made progress in child well-being, challenges remain. We’re moving in the right direction when it comes to trends in families experiencing food insecurity, kids covered by health insurance, high school graduation rates and youth incarceration rates.
However, Kentucky still has 219,000 kids living in poverty, nearly half of kindergartners entering school not ready to learn and a record high number of kids in foster care.
Because of these challenges, there are literally dozens of specific solutions that could make up a common ground agenda when it comes to kids.
It’s passing a refundable state earned income tax credit as part of any comprehensive or incremental change to our tax and budget system. It’s increasing child care supports so parents can work and provide for their children.
It’s focusing on a litany of measures to keep kids safe — ranging from removing the clergy-penitent privilege exemption for reporting suspected child abuse, to ending corporal punishment in schools, to higher quality standards for home-school enrollment.
It’s ensuring that the alarming epidemic in e-cigarette use among children ends.
It’s grabbing chances to improve public safety and child outcomes by establishing a minimum age that a child can be charged with an offense to ensure kids as young as 5 do not get stuck in the juvenile justice system maze.
On one hand, it’s a commitment to common-sense practices, such as restorative justice for youth. On the other hand, it’s a commitment to well-posited budget investments for emerging opportunities, such as the primacy of trauma-informed supports in schools, respite care for kinship families and expanding the promising efforts around Family Recovery Courts and the START program to help parents achieve sobriety and care for their families.
As vital as these discrete issues are, I want to suggest one metanarrative that can be a real catalyst for Kentucky’s kids and families: find ways to tackle kid issues in an interdisciplinary, cross-policy way. Unfortunately, neither the General Assembly nor the executive branch are organized to accomplish that. Legislative committees, constitutional offices and the executive branch’s array of cabinets all tend to address kids as if they are growing up in silos. Yet, every pressing problem requires an integrated and comprehensive solution.