Coordinator for Educational Programs
“Willingness to protect children is a moral litmus test of any decent and compassionate nation and city and state.” Marian Wright Edelman, 1988
A quarter century ago, Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, gave a speech about the state of children in the United States as part of the La Guardia Lecture Series. Edelman’s speech was a powerful indictment of our society’s and government’s failure to protect the health and well being of children. Edelman’s emphasis on the high rates of child poverty, the lack of health insurance for 35 million Americans, the need for prenatal care and for more and better early childhood education were as real then as they are today. She denounced President Reagan’s notion that government is the problem, believing that government played a critical role in addressing society’s ills. Budget deficits were also high in the 1980s, but Edelman argued that they were not caused by programs for children or the poor. She turned instead to the ballooning military budget as the main cause for the deficit and demanded action to address the needs of children, 20% of whom lived in poverty.
In President Obama’s State of the Union he addressed many of these concerns, defending the role of government in supporting people’s needs. Most notably, he called for universal pre-K education. But this is an old story. Edelman saw the need for such an initiative 25 years ago and Congress passed legislation 42 years ago, only to see it vetoed by President Richard Nixon. (See Gail Collins’ NY Times column “The State of the 4-Year-Olds.”) The Affordable Care Act will address many of children’s health concerns, but will Congress take up this call for universal pre-K education? If not now, when?