State of kids

Find the complete report, “The State of the State’s Children,” at

If sweeping changes aren’t made in public policy to safeguard the health and education of California’s children, all the state’s residents will pay a high price going into the future. That’s the word from a study released a few weeks ago by the watchdog group Children Now.

Yes, folks, our kids have problems.

For starters, according to “The State of the State’s Children,” nearly 800,000 of them don’t have health insurance, not even Medi-Cal. One in three of those (ages ranging from 6 to 17 years old) is obese or overweight. About 58 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds 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 can become sick adults. Undereducated children can 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.

The Oakland-based Children Now assigned letter grades to the health, education level and condition of California families for 2005-06. Despite gains made in standardized test scores, the group reports that the state’s schools get largely below-average marks. K-12 education climbed from a D plus to a C minus. In the realm of family well-being it was D plus; the same grade was given in the obesity/health category.

Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, suggests universal health care as an “immediate doable step” that could be accomplished in California this year. Let’s hope Lempert’s suggestion and his group’s “report card” stay center stage on the minds of the governor and Legislature this year as they debate and consider the various children’s health-care plans now moving through the Legislature.

Also, Children Now advocates for overhauling the state’s K-12 finance system, so as to use it as an entryway for comprehensive, integrated care for all children, including health and nutrition, dental and mental health.

That would be another great starting point.

Right around election time last November, Children Now released the results of a poll that found that 86 percent of California voters wanted “a significant and comprehensive change” in its K-12 public-education system. Here’s hoping our political leaders jump on this as a mandate and move fast and decisively to better safeguard our children.