Take a look at the activity in the hallways of the 50 state
capitols and one strong theme emerges: kids. From child care to
foster care to health care, legislators are scrambling to boost
spending and revamp the way their states help children.
In statehouses, it seems, 1999 is the Year of the Child. New
York, for instance, is considering the biggest one-year increase in
child- care funding in its history.
Arizona's governor wants to double the size of the state's child-
And California may add a child-support czar to go after deadbeat
The driving force behind many such plans is the desire to protect
kids from being hurt by welfare reform. But other forces are
converging, too - a new national emphasis on early-childhood
development, business executives clamoring for better education, and
the sudden influx of money from tobacco-company settlements.
Targeting children is "a politically acceptable way to help poor
families," explains Cynthia Craft, editor of StateNet Capitol
in Sacramento, Calif. "No one would suggest that the child go out
and get a job." And bipartisanship runs strong on these issues
because "Democrats always bring up the human services and
have to counteract their image as bullies by exposing their warm,
Indeed in Arizona, where the late conservative icon Barry
Goldwater still looms large, Republican Gov. Jane Dee Hull is
proposing to add $10 million in child-care subsidies for working
families and $3 million to Healthy Families, a child-abuse-
program. She would also revive the state's prenatal-care program at
a cost of $1 million.
And she's not alone: Legislators are rushing to revamp the foster-
care system by shortening the time it takes to get the state's 7,000
foster children into permanent homes.
One lawmaker even wants to create a new license plate with
proceeds going to child-abuse-prevention programs.
But it's not just a desire to show their "warm, fuzzy" sides
that's driving legislators to help children.
For one thing, like many states, Arizona will soon start getting
its annual check from the tobacco companies - $100 million for each
of the next 25 years.
Also, the notion that the first few years of a child's life are
crucial to later success has gained national prominence - and
acceptance across the political spectrum. Forums such as last year's
so-called White House conference on the brain have put great
on this field of early childhood development.
In the end, actions such as boosting child care fit nicely into a
conservative philosophy, says Carol Kamin, head of Children's Action
Alliance, an advocacy group in Phoenix. …