Is it good for the children? (Capitol Update)

Several years ago, some business and community organizations in Kansas decided to urge policymakers in making decisions to ask the question, “Is it good for the children?” The question in some political circles might bring hoots of scorn as not hard edged enough for serious public policy. On the other hand, we have a governor who talks about making Oklahoma a “top 10” state. 

We have a way to go. 

No single administration or legislature is going to move us from where we land on most quality-of-life indices to “top 10.” In fact, one would hope the thinking of our political leaders is long range, not just putting together a few select numbers to prove “we made it.” If our leaders are thinking long range, the “is it good for the children” question might be a good litmus test for policy proposals. 

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2021 KIDS COUNT Data Book, Oklahoma ranks 42nd among the states for overall child well-being. The top three states are Massachusetts (1st), New Hampshire (2nd), and Minnesota (3rd). The bottom feeders are Louisiana (48th), Mississippi (49th), and New Mexico (50th). We’re slightly up from the bottom. Our best ranking of the four categories measured is economic well-being with a rank of 33rd. The KIDS COUNT Data Book suggests that to grow into productive adults, children need parents with an adequate income to provide necessities and to invest in their children’s future. At 33rd, we are below average and not within shouting distance of top 10.    

Our poorest ranking is education, 45th among the states. Although we got a head start in the 1990s with early childhood education, we are now behind other states on average with 57 percent of our young children ages 3 and 4 not in school. Seventy-one percent of fourth-graders are not proficient in reading, and 74 percent of eighth-graders are not proficient in math. If the question is, “is it good for the children,” the answer is: put more money in education. Put all the money we can in education, common, career tech, and higher education.    

The other reported rankings are child health at 42nd and family and community at 41st, just about where we are overall. We know that good health and family and community relationships are driven by financial security, safety, and good education. Children without health care, living in poverty areas, and going to underfunded schools have the odds of a good life stacked against them. Is it good for the children? If the answer is yes, becoming a top 10 state: No problem

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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