A children’s program

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger gives his State of the State speech Tuesday (Jan. 9), he would do well to focus a good part of it on the status of the state’s children. As a new study released Wednesday (Jan. 3) by the watchdog group Children Now indicates, our kids have a lot of problems.

For example, nearly 800,000 of them don’t have health insurance, not even Medi-Cal. One in three of those who are 6 to 17 years old is obese or overweight. About 58 percent of those 3 and 4 years old do not attend preschool, which has been shown to enhance future academic and social success. About 60 percent of the state’s second- to 11th-graders did not meet state goals for math and reading proficiency in 2006, and the graduation rate is only 71 percent. And as many as 30 percent of our children live in economically distressed families that have enough money to pay for only their most basic needs.

It’s bad enough that so many children are struggling in life, but it’s even worse to consider what’s likely to happen to them—and to society—in the future. Overweight children become sick adults. Undereducated children become unskilled and unemployable adults and, too often, criminals. The stresses of poverty and poor health cause families to fall apart, leading to further social disintegration. Caring for these people will be tremendously expensive.

Children Now advocates for overhauling the state’s K-12 finance system to make it more effective and, just as important, using it as an entryway for comprehensive, integrated care for all children, including health and nutrition, dental and mental health.

That’s a good starting point. We know the governor cares about children. Now is the time for him to put that care into action.