San Francisco Voters Test Children's Issues with 'Proposition J' City Split over Measure Earmarking Funds to Fight Delinquency and Boost Child Care

By Scott Armstrong, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 1, 1991 | Go to article overview

San Francisco Voters Test Children's Issues with 'Proposition J' City Split over Measure Earmarking Funds to Fight Delinquency and Boost Child Care


Scott Armstrong, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


IN an age of growing concern about the plight of American youth, San Francisco is considering a landmark children's initiative that could turn into a national crusade.

Voters in the city - statistically the most adult in the nation - will take up a ballot measure next Tuesday that for the first time would guarantee a percentage of local spending for children's services. If approved, and polls suggest it will be, the measure is expected to be replicated elsewhere, as child advocacy groups across the country look for ways to garner funding for a group that has no voice at the ballot box.

"The San Francisco initiative is a wake-up call," says David Liederman, director of the Child Welfare League of America, which is not involved with the measure. "It is being launched out of absolute frustration that we haven't been able to get support for what we believe is a top priority for the United States."

Advocacy groups here have pressed hard for greater funding for children's services for the past four years. Upset at the response, they launched Proposition J.

The measure wouldn't raise taxes to pay for programs. Instead, it would amend the city charter to mandate use of a portion of property-tax money for specific children's programs, such as child care, tutoring, delinquency prevention, job training for teenagers, and health and social services.

"We mounted as sophisticated a lobbying effort on the local level for children as has ever been done," says Margaret Brodkin, head of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, a local group that wrote the initiative. "Our failure highlights how completely powerless kids are. We have to invent a new idea about what good government is when it comes to children."

The drive here comes as concern grows nationally about the state of American youth. In a report in February, the Center for the Study of Social Policy, in Washington, D.C., declared the 1980s to be a "decade of deterioration for children." It reported dramatic increases in child poverty, births to teenagers, and violent deaths among adolescents. The National Commission on Children estimates 1 in 5 children lives in poverty.

"We are clearly not investing enough in children," says Richard Lamm, former governor of Colorado and director of the Center for Public Policy and Contemporary Issues at the University of Denver. "This is more than a social tragedy. It is a nation-threatening trend."

Mr. Lamm ticks off statistics that show what he believes are skewed priorities: the elderly receive three times more state, local, and federal assistance than do children, even though the elderly have the "largest amount of discretionary income in America"; the US ranks 19th in the world in infant mortality but has among the highest life expectancy of people over 80. …

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