Give All American Kids a Safe, Poverty-Free Life

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Give All American Kids a Safe, Poverty-Free Life

WASHINGTON - In less than the time it takes to read this newspaper, another 14 infants will be born into poverty in America. Another 10 will be born without health insurance. And one more child in our country will be neglected or abused.

We are blessed to be living in a time of incredible opportunity and unprecedented prosperity. We have a $10 trillion economy, eight years of record economic growth and a projected multi-trillion-dollar federal budget surplus.

As we enter the 21st century, America's strength reflects our courage, compassion, hard work, moral values and commitment to justice.

Yet despite living in the world's wealthiest, most powerful nation, millions of our children are still being left behind.

Every day, too many of our children have too little to eat and no place to sleep.

Every day, the parents of 11 million children worry about watching their child grow sicker and not knowing what to do or how to get help because they don't have health insurance.

Every day, loved ones gather around 10 new graves to mourn the loss of a young person killed by a gun. These facts are not acts of God. They are the results of political and moral choices our nation has made. It's time to do better.

Over the past year, experts from across the country have joined hands to shape a comprehensive national policy agenda with a singular focus: legislation to leave no child behind.

Working with a range of child advocates and members of Congress, the Children's Defense Fund helped craft legislation that combines the best ideas into a coherent visionary measure with specific policy objectives to make a difference in children's lives.

The Act to Leave No Child Behind, introduced this year by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., gives the president, Congress, state and local officials and all Americans the opportunity to:

Provide health insurance to every child and their parents. Lift every child from poverty in the next 10 years. End child hunger. Get every child ready for school through full funding of quality Head Start, child-care, and preschool programs. Make sure every child can read by the fourth grade. Provide every child safe, quality after-school and summer programs and ensure decent affordable housing. Offer families leaving welfare the support needed to succeed in the workplace - including health care, child care and transportation.

The legislation is comprehensive because children do not come in pieces. They live in families and communities in need of support. The bill is achievable because it builds on the best ideas, models and practices for helping children and because we have all the resources we need to provide them.

The legislation is timely because our nation is at a pivotal moral and economic point as we debate what kind of choices we will make to build a more just and compassionate society. And it is responsible - costing pennies a day per American.

With those pennies, we can build an America where no child has to grow up in poverty, where families have the support they need to succeed at work and at home, where communities are safe and every child has a place to call home. Not a bad deal.

We can do this. We must do this if America's dream will have viability with its own children and the rest of the world. America made a commitment to fight poverty among the elderly - and the senior poverty rate has decreased more than 60 percent in the last 30 years. We have the know-how, experience, tools and resources to end child poverty. And we have the responsibility as mothers, fathers, grandparents and concerned and sensible citizens to act. Now.

We cannot let the words "leave no child behind" become a fig leaf for unjust political and policy choices. Children cannot eat words and phrases.

There has never been a better time to seize the mantle of leadership and build a nation worthy of its promise for all of our children. There is no excuse. It's in our hands to make sure that as America moves forward, we leave no child behind.

Marian Wright Edelman

Marian Wright Edelman is the president of the Children's Defense Fund.

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