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Good afternoon on this lovely Saturday in January! I’m Jessica, Voices’ new communications manager. I just wanted to introduce myself and share a childhood memory that complements Polly’s latest post. From time to time, the Voices staff and our supporters will share memories and lessons from childhood on the Voices Today blog. These posts may stir up childhood memories of your own (please share!) and give us all the opportunity to reflect on how these experiences have influenced our lives.

Whenever I eat fresh parsley I’m immediately transported back in time to my nanny and grandpa’s mint green kitchen. They were old-fashioned folks who grew much of their own produce in their suburban backyard. They spent hours in the garden and hours in the kitchen. They rarely cooked anything from a box.

I remember picking parsley with my grandpa and can still taste the delicious cauliflower cakes, cucumber salad and lima beans my grandma served on their formica table. Because of these positive food experiences, I have an appreciation for fresh food. I also recognize the challenge of eating healthy in our modern society. If I wrestle with purchasing a three-dollar red pepper, it’s completely understandable why someone at or below the poverty level would pass.

With 57 percent of Georgia’s children eligible for free and reduced school lunches, it’s important that we advocate for fresh foods in schools that will help them develop positive food habits to reflect on and carry into adulthood. To some children, the school cafeteria is their grandparents’ garden…

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Governor Deal (front and center) meets with community and political leaders from around the world on Jan. 14 at the Georgia Capitol. Polly McKinney, Voices' advocacy director, is to his right.

Although activity at the state Capitol was slowed down this week by snow and ice, by people trying to find new offices and learn new systems, Georgia government, nevertheless, moved forward. A Governor was inaugurated, Senators and Representatives were sworn in, and the new Administration’s plan for fiscal management was delivered. The Senate and House have made committee assignments and dropped a few bills, but overall, it was an especially slow week legislatively. That said, it was a wonderful week in terms of being reminded of the deepest meaning of what Voices is about: advocating on behalf of children.

This morning, a state Senator and I, met with a group of political and business leaders from around the world. As the group arrived at the South Entrance of the Capitol, it occurred to me what a treat it would be for them to have a photo taken with the Governor. Even though it seemed unlikely that Governor Deal would be available on such short notice, we checked with his office, and surprisingly, he was in and happy to come out to meet the guests. After the photo, the Governor asked if he might address the group and take a few questions. As you might guess, I said of course and please!

He spoke of foreign students his family had hosted, and took questions ranging in subject from snow to changing political parties. It was watching Governor Deal, so close, so candid and so kind, that it occurred to me that the most important thing to note this week was the fact that we are living and raising our children in an “Advocacy Friendly” country. As disheartened as we can all get by angry rhetoric, partisan politics, and last week’s tragedy in Tuscon, it is important to remember that few other countries have such amazing access to their government. To be able to call your lawmaker on the phone at the office or at home, to be able to stand in the halls of a capitol or even a grocery parking lot and respectfully present your point of view to an elected official without fear of reprisal is a gift and, because of how our country has grown, a right. That mutual trust, that peaceful transition of power, and that welcomed self-confidence is what allows each of us to be a voice for Georgia’s children. It is what allows us each to raise our children to become voices for the children of the future.

Polly

Polly McKinney
Advocacy Director
Voices for Georgia’s Children

This year offers the best chance for the next four (or eight) years for Georgia to make a commitment to children.

If children, whether your own or all of Georgia’s children, are a priority for you then vote for their interests on Tuesday, July 20, and get ready to wage a campaign for them in the General Election season.

Before you cast your ballot on Tuesday, check the candidates’ websites, print materials, or public comments for what they say about children?  Do they recognize them as citizens of Georgia who merit as much service and priority as those who can step into the voting booth and cast a ballot?  Vote for those who speak up for kids.

On Wednesday, join Voices for Georgia’s Children at the Loudermilk Center at 10:00 a.m. to assess the impact of the primaries on the future of children.  Let’s have a lively discussion about how to get kids onto the platforms of those who are the final contenders.

From Thursday until November 2, ask the pointed question of the candidates.  We want more than “I will be the children’s governor (legislator, attorney general, etc.).”  We need to hear specifics:  “I will increase families’ access to quality child care and PreK.”  “I will ensure that children reap the early benefits of healthcare reform.”  “I will require that our laws recognize that children are not little adults.”  “I will focus resources on children who we know are likely to drop out of school.”

The best chance for the next four (or eight) years – let’s not lose it.

Pat Willis, Executive Director

Voices for Georgia’s Children

There is a lot of news in education these days…

Last Tuesday applications for round two of the federal government’s Race To The Top (RT3) program were due. Georgia plus 34 other states and the District of Columbia applied. If selected as a RT3 winner, Georgia could receive over $400 million.

  • To view Georgia’s application click here. (warning – it’s over 200 pages)

The following day, leaders from the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers descended on Georgia (specifically on Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee) for the release of the Common Core State Standards.

  • For an excellent overview of the issues surrounding the CCSS click here to read the brief from Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education (don’t worry – this one really is an overview – only 4 pages).

Both of these endeavors have many vocal supporters as well as many vocal detractors. Both contain many elements we want to see for all our children – a focus on excellence, equality and success. At Voices we want to raise the bar for all children so that every child truly has a chance to succeed first in school and later in life. The concern is that equal isn’t always fair. It’s too simplistic to think that if we give all children exactly the same support, they will all excel in exactly the same way.

The reality is that some children are more vulnerable than others. Think about the impact on learning when a child regularly comes to school hungry, spends their day worrying about where they’ll sleep at night or if dad has gone back to jail. What about when the child fears being beaten when they get home, worries about mom using drugs again or about the gunshots they’ll hear just outside their front door? What is the impact when the peers that surround a child discourage her from doing her homework or him from even going to school?

For all children to achieve, we have to accept that some will need more support than others. During this time of fiscal crisis, it is more important than ever to examine our public spending and target it to the places where it is most needed and can make the most difference. Our vulnerable youth need our support and they will pay us back by succeeding, by joining the ranks of the gainfully employed and civically minded. Yes – let’s continue to improve conditions for all of Georgia’s children but let’s also remember that our most vulnerable youth may need need some extra attention. If Georgia is awarded RT3 dollars or adopts the CCSS or really as we go forward with any major education reform, there has to be special attention paid to vulnerable children if we are going to give them all a chance at success.

From our national partner Voices for America’s Children:

Originally Posted by Joanna Shoffner Scott on May. 12

You can make a more dramatic impact on a person’s life the younger you reach out to them. We believe that in a lot of issues, like education and health. But crime prevention might be the best example of the idea of “get ’em young.”

Youth who have been previously tried as adults are, on average, 34 percent more likely to commit crimes than youth put in the juvenile justice system. This and a body of other research shows that making an effort to get troubled children onto a better path pays off, preventing adult crime and reducing juvenile recidivism.

Click here to support juvenile justice reform with a message to your member of Congress.

Children need lobbyists.  I’ve blogged about this before.  Individuals and nonprofits that care about children’s issues should storm the state capitol every January.  We must do so, in order to give the interests of children a fighting chance for the attention and commitment of lawmakers. (YES, non profits can lobby legally!  Just follow the IRS rules.  The Alliance for Justice will tell you how.)

But lobbyists for children, whether Moms, Dads, volunteers or nonprofits, rarely have the resources for the tickets, restaurants, trips and entertainment that often are offered by lobbyists in the corporate sector.  I don’t believe that most legislators “sell” their votes.  But the familiarity, even friendship, that develops over a good meal, cheering the Braves, walking the links, create pressures.  We all experience it, not just in politics but in organizations, neighborhoods, anywhere.  It doesn’t mean that legislators don’t care about kids or other social issues.  But the kids’ lobbyists don’t get the same amount of face time, nor time that breeds a sense of obligation. 

This is why the opinion piece by Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver today in the AJC makes sense.   In speaking to your representatives about the rules on gifts from lobbyists and other ethics legislation, you are asking for a level playing field for all the interests addressed by our elected officials.  I’m asking for it for children. 

Pat Willis, Executive Director

Voices for Georgia’s Children

After several hours of debate and a delay to allow the Senate to pass HB 1055 which raises certain user fees, contains the hospital bed tax and phases in property tax cuts and income tax cuts for seniors, the House passed the FY 11 budget today.  The budget now goes to the Senate.

In response to Georgia’s continuing fiscal crisis, the budget passed by the House contains deep cuts to K-12 education and child welfare workers, furloughs of state workers, reduction in the number of case workers and benefits workers.  Yet, Voices was pleased that the House has endorsed two Voices funding priorities.

The House’s version of the FY 11 budget contains the necessary state match for the implementation of the Planning for Healthy Babies Medicaid waiver program.  When it implements the waiver, the Department of Community Health can pull down 90 cents from the federal government for every 10 cents of state funds spent to provide women under 200 percent of the federal poverty limits with health services targeted to ensure healthy pregnancies and decrease the number of very low birth weight infants in our state. Not only does this promote better child outcomes but it is also projected to bring significant savings to Georgia.

In addition, Voices has also spoken against the Governor’s proposed cut to the lottery funded pre-k Resource Coordinator program which provides vital services to empower parents to become engaged in their child’s education.  We are happy to note that the House version of the FY 11 budget, reduces the size of the cut to Resource Coordinators by 50% while also funding 2000 new pre-k slots.

We’ve passed an important hurdle and will continue to work with members of the Senate to ensure that amendments to these items are not made in the Senate’s version of the FY 11 budget.

Mindy Binderman

Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy

www.georgiavoices.org

Join Voices for Georgia’s Children, JUST Georgia and others at a forum with the candidates for Attorney General.

Monday, April 5th, 2010, 6:30 – 9:00 pm.
Park Tavern, Piedmont Room(upstairs) 500 10th St NE | Atlanta, GA 30309

Spaces are limited and attendance is expected to be high. Come be a part of this great event by submitting your RSVP to cabrego@wznd.net to reserve your seat today (you may also submit questions for the candidates in your RSVP).

View full event flier: Attorney General Candidate Forum – APRIL 5TH

As the debate on healthcare reform approached a vote on Sunday evening, Speaker Pelosi called out the names of organizations that had worked collaboratively in support of reform.  One of those was Voices for America’s Children, our national association.  Our national membership organization worked tirelessly to ensure that the needs of children were given priority in health reform.  Our objective in the health reform debate was not to structure reform but to make sure that the gains for child health that we have made over the years with the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and its reauthorization in 2009 were sustained and hopefully improved.  We are delighted that one of the immediate impacts of the legislation, if enacted, will guarantee that children with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied health insurance.

There are no do-overs for childhood.  Healthy children become healthy adults.  Our national, state and local health policies must recognize this as both an obligation to the most vulnerable and an opportunity for cost savings and increased productivity in the future.

Pat Willis, Executive Director

DFCS may be endangering the safety and well-being of thousands of vulnerable children by diverting them from the custody of the state child welfare system and failing to provide the services and protections necessary to keep them safe

See press release at Georgia Child Welfare Practices May Risk Kids’ Lives, Children’s Rights Advocates Charge in Federal Court.

Children’s Rights, Inc. a national advocacy group working to reform child welfare systems, largely through major class action lawsuits, filed a motion in federal court earlier this week in an effort to force the State to turn over documents related to diversion, safety resources and temporary guardianships of children in Fulton and DeKalb counties.

Based largely on reports by the Office of the Child Advocate, Children’s Rights states a concern that DFCS is misusing both diversions and safety resources to artificially suppress the number of investigations and the number of kids in foster care and that the result is leaving abused and neglected children in danger and denying  them basic legal protections.

The motion was filed as a part of the class action lawsuit known as Kenny A. v. Perdue that was first filed against the state in 2002. It will now be up to the federal court judge to decide if DFCS must turn over the requested documents.

Beth
Policy Director
Voices for Georgia’s Children
www.georgiavoices.org

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