In politics, you hunt where the ducks are. As those under 18 can’t vote at all, that’s not a constituency where many politicians will focus their time and efforts.
Also in an election year, as in this year’s race for governor, there is recrimination among the candidates about past records or misdeeds — more than talking about the future.
What about the future? The future that is in the prospects of all those too young to vote but for whom government is a critical element in their growth and fulfillment.
From child care costs on to elementary education on to higher education or technical training, government plays a significant role along the way. Government need not be the only provider of particular services but it is often the principal funder of education. Health care for children in poor families is an important commitment through the Medicaid program.
All these matters probably ought to get more attention from the candidates for governor and Legislature, but obviously there are few lobbyists for a constituency with little money and fewer votes — until this year.
In a commendable step, several nonprofits and community organizations have stepped up their efforts to question the candidates on the prospects of children in Louisiana.
Those contributing to this discussion include coalitions of groups working on child health and welfare issues, the United Way of Southeast Louisiana and business-led groups pushing for enhancements to early childhood education, such as One Acadiana and the Council for a Better Louisiana.
The Policy Institute for Children collected many of those organizations’ proposals into an issues briefing for people seeking to find out if the candidates are focusing on the future.
Not everyone will agree on every item on these lists. There are disagreements aplenty in education and health care; some support the transformation of charity hospitals into public-private partnerships and others are hotly opposed, for example.
We are also keenly aware of the costs and problems in state intervention in families and communities. No one wants a child to be neglected because a state caseworker has too many files on the desk to pay attention, but that is the kind of expensive and labor-intensive work that costs money during a time of cutbacks rather than expansions of state agency budgets.
All these issues are important. It’s a safe bet that the candidates are more focused on voting constituencies, but parents do vote, and the community at large has a broader interest in how kids turn out. Are they going to be educated contributors to the wealth of our state? Or are their lives going to go wrong somewhere, with catastrophic consequences not only to themselves and their families, but to public safety?
We welcome the focus on children this year. We hope the candidates respond effectively to these issues.