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March 10, 2010 > Children Now issues failing grade to California

Children Now issues failing grade to California

By Alyson Whitaker
Photos By Miriam G. Mazliach

Graphic Image from

When a teenager brings home a report card filled with Ds, and perhaps a C or two, a parent's first instinct is most likely anger. Then comes a call for change-more supervision with homework, increased communication with teachers, tighter curfews, stricter rules, maybe even the car keys being taken away. All the consequences stem from a parent's desire to help their child succeed, to build a better life and a brighter future.

What happens when that report card doesn't belong to an individual struggling student, but rather the entire State of California?

Children Now is an Oakland-based advocacy group fighting to improve the services offered to the roughly 9.4 million children under age 18 living in California. Each year since 1989, Children Now has issued the California Report Card, an overview showing how our children are being affected in areas of education, health care, nutrition, safety, and other issues that influence their ability to thrive. The report card is intended to be a wake-up call to policy makers, reminding them of the ever-increasing needs of a population too young to speak for itself.

The 2010 report card is dismal and depressing. Nearly all areas covered by the report received a sub-par grade. K-12 education: D. Health coverage: D+. More than 12 percent of California's children are obese and 580,000 kids can't afford dental care. One out of five will drop out of high school. Slight progress was made in reducing teen drug use and the availability of quality after-school care, but the overall report is discouraging.

Throughout history, when societies invest in the education of their children, there is a reciprocal effect; those children grow up and become contributing members of that society. The opposite can be said as well. If children's services are not top priority, those children struggle as they reach adulthood.

For California, the news is grim. Budget cuts are at the forefront of education, and while Governor Schwarzenegger promised no more cuts to education, an additional $1.5 billion dollars have been eliminated from the already hard-hit funding.

A few facts taken directly from the California Report Card:

With approximately 6.3 million public school students, California has more students enrolled in the public K-12 system than any other state in the nation.

California ranks near lowest in the nation on test scores for fourth grade reading, and third lowest on eighth grade math.

Per pupil spending in California has remained below the national average since 1982.

If the current trends continue, California is forecasted to have a shortage of one million college graduates by 2025, when 41 percent of all California jobs will likely require a bachelor's degree but only 35 percent of Californians will have one.

In 2009, the largest cuts in the state budget crunch directly affected children. There is no doubt that these are tough economic times for California, and our nation at large. Years of over-spending have created a deficit so deep that there is little light at the end of the tunnel.

Additional large-scale budget cuts are expected in the near future. While cuts are a necessity to pull us out of the hole we've created for ourselves, it does not justify the shortsighted decisions being made regarding investments in our children. Other states facing severe budget shortfalls in 2009, including Oregon, New Jersey and Florida, have recognized the value of putting children first and acting accordingly.

Ted Lempert is an executive Director with Children Now. While the report is dismal, and more than a little bit discouraging, Lempert is optimistic. "This is indeed the worst of times in the 20 years we have been doing this," he said. "But it's also a time of great opportunity."

"In the worst of times, you put your kids first," he said. "Any family would do that. So here is an opportunity to get people to say, 'Wait a minute. We need to focus on the future.' If we are not protecting kids, what are we doing to our future?"

Lempert, a former legislator himself, says most voters support spending for education and children's health care; but verbal support alone won't influence lawmakers in Sacramento. With the state facing a $20 billion deficit, it will take more than good intentions to affect change. Parents, businesses, and communities must band together and lobby for the youngsters of this once-great state.

Children Now is launching such a lobbying organization, called The Children's Movement. The goal of the movement is to get groups like the state PTA, community organizations and faith groups, business leaders, realtors and educators to set priorities for kids and pressure lawmakers to put kids first in budget decisions. "This doesn't just make moral sense, it's about economics," says Lempert. "If we want our state to thrive decades from now, we can't shortchange kids."

The Children's Movement will put more power and coordination into the efforts to affect change in where California spends its money. Despite the rhetoric from lawmakers that children are a top priority, the budget shows otherwise.

Just as a parent would step in to aid a child struggling in school, we as parents, grandparents, friends, business owners, and community members must not stand idly by as our children continue to be swept aside. Our cumulative voice must speak loud enough to jolt lawmakers into action. The future of our state is at stake.

To read the report in its entirety or to join the Children's Movement, visit

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