An Agenda for Our Nation's Children

One of the central efforts I intend to make during my term in the Senate is to end the outrage that the richest nation in the history of the world, the United States, has by far the largest number of children living in poverty of any industrialized nation. Today, over 18 percent of American children live in poverty, which is close to one child out of every five.

I get tired of hearing about 'family values' when the reality in our nation is that we have children who go hungry, and we have chil

Senator Bernard SandersOne of the central efforts I intend to make during my term in the Senate is to end the outrage that the richest nation in the history of the world, the United States, has by far the largest number of children living in poverty of any industrialized nation. Today, over 18 percent of American children live in poverty, which is close to one child out of every five.I get tired of hearing about 'family values' when the reality in our nation is that we have children who go hungry, and we have children who are homeless and live on the street or in cars. It is not a 'family value' when there is a lack of quality child care, or when large numbers of young children are turned away from the Head Start programs to which they are entitled, and which could prepare them not only for school but for life. That 18 percent of our children live in poverty is not a 'family value.' We are increasingly becoming a nation where the people on top are doing remarkably well, while the vast majority of Americans struggle to maintain their standard of living by working longer hours. It is not a 'family value' when, since President Bush has been in office, more than 5 million Americans have slipped into poverty, including over one million children - while at the same time the richest 300,000 families earn as much income as the bottom the bottom 150 million Americans, while the top 1 percent of Americans (those with incomes of more than $348,000) had the largest share of national income since 1928.Here are three major issues regarding children that I am addressing, and intend to address strongly over the course of coming years.First, we must strengthen and expand Head Start. I am very proud of the Head Start program, and the excellent work Head Start centers are doing throughout Vermont to prepare low-income young children for school. Yet under the Bush administration, Head Start has been starved for funds: its budget has been cut or basically level-funded for a number of years. I believe every family that qualifies for Head Start should find its children welcomed into a Head Start Center. But currently that is not the case: there is sufficient funding for only 60 percent of the children between four and five who qualify for Head Start to participate in that program. The situation is even worse for Early Head Start, where only 3 percent of eligible children have places in Head Start programs. Overall, only 20 percent of eligible U.S. children aged zero to five years old are actually in Head Start and Early Head Start.I intend to play an active role in getting full funding for Head Start, and in moving to full-day, full-year programs for all eligible children. I serve on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee which deals with the legislation concerning Head Start. The process of passing legislation is long and complicated, but happily this year, working with other Senators, we got a bill out of committee which increases Head Start funding by 6.2 percent, the largest increase in many years. Still, there is much more work to be done.There is also work to be done on two other priorities. One is child care. A sea change has come over American families, as more and more parents have to work in two-parent families, and as more families have a single parent. It is essential that quality child care is available to any family who needs it, and I intend to pursue that goal vigorously.Finally, we must honor our federal commitment to fund 40 percent of special education. This commitment has been ignored and set aside, so that today the federal government funds only 17.7 percent of special ed costs. This is unfair to the children whoo need special ed, and to school districts which have to cut programs because of tight funding. And it places a huge burden on local property taxes, since every dollar of its share that the federal government refuses to pay must be found elsewhere - always by increasing local property taxes. Just a week ago, I brought an amendment to the floor which would have rescinded President Bush's tax cuts for the nation's wealthiest citizens, and used that money to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The amendment failed, but I will continue in this effort to fully fund IDEA, as Senator Jeffords did before me.To read a clip from WCAX-TV click here.