Study after study has shown that smart investments in child health and education yield impressive returns that benefit us all. Yet a recent study by the Fiscal Policy Center at Connecticut Voices for Children shows that over the past two decades, Connecticut has committed less and less of its budget to young people. Spending on the “Children’s Budget” – state government spending that directly benefits young people – has dropped from 40 percent of the state budget to 30 percent during this period.
By shifting funds away from such investments, we diminish opportunities for today’s children and jeopardize tomorrow’s economy. In the legislative session that just started, there are several practical steps that policymakers can take to significantly improve opportunities for thousands of children and rebuild investments in our common future:
- We should expand access to high quality early childhood education. Research shows that access to nurturing and language-rich early childhood environments creates a foundation for success in school and in life. We should also follow through on legislation to establish in statute The Office of Early Childhood, which has the strong potential to create a more coordinated and integrated early childhood system.
- By fully restoring the value of the state earned income tax credit (EITC) to 30 percent of the federal credit by 2015, we can, with bipartisan support, strengthen a successful program that has pulled more children out of poverty than any other.
- By creating a state child tax credit, we can improve the fairness of our regressive tax system, take into account the cost of raising children, and boost the incomes of working families.
- Arrests of students increase the likelihood of dropouts, and a host of other negative life outcomes. We should promote collaboration between schools and police to reduce unnecessary arrests and involvement of youth in the juvenile justice system.
- By enabling children in the HUSKY health insurance program to remain on HUSKY for 12 months through “continuous eligibility,” regardless of short-term income or household changes, we can reduce gaps in health coverage for thousands of children.
- Children in state care often miss out on quality educational experiences because of their involvement in the foster care or juvenile justice systems. We should support measures that connect these children to high quality educational opportunities.
- We should also extend supports for all eligible youth in foster care up to age 21 and expand services for youths transitioning out of the care of DCF. Raising the maximum age for these supports has been shown to improve education and employment outcomes for these youth, who are at greater risk of poverty and homelessness.
- Economic downturns can hurt state revenues and cut supports for kids just when they need help the most. To ensure that our state budget has a much-needed financial cushion, and guard against sudden spending cuts and tax increases during future recessions, we should increase deposits and the savings limit for the state’s Rainy Day Fund.
Ellen Shemitz is executive director of Connecticut Voices for Children (www.ctvoices.org).