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Children Missing from the First Debate

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The presidential candidates participated on Wednesday in the first of three presidential debates. This debate was focused on discussing domestic policy, but among the discussion of the economy, jobs, education, and taxes, one critical issue was overlooked: our nation’s children.

Specifically, Pres. Obama and Gov. Romney failed to bring up the incredibly prevalent issue of child poverty. Today, 1-in-5 children live in poverty. This number has risen consistently over the past few years. According to a recent analysis by our partners at First Focus, the national child poverty rate has risen from 18 percent to 22 percent between 2007-2010. But even in light of these troubling statistics, it took 75 minutes for Romney to mention poverty for the first time during the debate, and neither he nor Obama addressed child poverty the entire evening. Romney listed additional statistics on the number of people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP- formally known as food stamps) and other governmental assistant programs, but failed to mention that 47 percent of SNAP recipeints are children, and how these programs benefit kids and significantly reduce poverty.

Two children’s topics did receive limited attention during the debates: health care and education. The candidates were most vocal about their desires to improve the education of our nation’s children:

“But what I’ve also said is let’s hire another 100,000 math and science teachers to make sure we maintain our technological lead and our people are skilled and able to succeed. And hard-pressed states right now can’t all do that. In fact we’ve seen layoffs of hundreds of thousands of teachers over the last several years, and Governor Romney doesn’t think we need more teachers. I do, because I think that that is the kind of investment where the federal government can help.” -Obama

“And so if we take a balanced approach, what that then allows us to do is also to help young people, the way we already have during my administration, make sure that they can afford to go to college.

It means that the teacher that I met in Las Vegas, a wonderful young lady, who describes to me — she’s got 42 kids in her class. The first two weeks she’s got them, some of them sitting on the floor until finally they get reassigned. They’re using text books that are 10 years old.

That is not a recipe for growth. That’s not how America was built. And so budgets reflect choices.” -Obama

“Well, first, I love great schools. Massachusetts, our schools are ranked number one of all 50 states. And the key to great schools, great teachers.

So I reject the idea that I don’t believe in great teachers or more teachers. Every school district, every state should make that decision on their own.”
-Romney

“My own view, by the way, is I’ve added to that. I happen to believe, I want the kids that are getting federal dollars from IDEA or Title I — these are disabled kids or — or — or poor kids or — or lower-income kids, rather, I want them to be able to go to the school of their choice.

So all federal funds, instead of going to the — to the state or to the school district, I’d have go, if you will, follow the child and let the parent and the child decide where to send their — their — their student.

While making the contentions that education for our kids is an investment (Obama), schools can’t succeed with 42 kids per class and 10-year-old textbooks, and great teachers make great schools, it is clear that both presidential candidates believe investing in the education of our children is a worthy cause. However, both Pres. Obama and Gov. Romney offered little concrete policy changes that they would implement in order to improve the educational system. Everyone can agree that improving education is good, but what we should do about these improvements is an entirely different matter.” -Romney

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was discussed between the candidates during the debate on Wednesday evening. Obama explained that under the ACA, children would be able to stay on their parent’s health insurance plans until they were 26-years-old, but this explanation was one of only times children under the age of 18 were mentioned with regards to the new health care legislation. Neither candidate mentioned Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), both of which aid children in receiving access to quality medical care. Since Medicaid is currently facing cuts (through the sequester scheduled for January 1st) and CHIP is up for reauthorization, these programs were prime targets for discussion in last night’s debate. However, both candidates shied away from breaching either of these topics.

We at the First Focus Campaign for Children weren’t the only ones to notice the debate was short on talk about kids. Many individuals and great organizations like Momsrising used the Twitter hashtag #kids2012 to discuss what issues didn’t come up while watching the debate. And the Washington Post published an article today on the issue, Poverty Goes Missing at Denver Debate.

According to a recent poll by First Focus Campaign for Children, 63 percent of potential voters think the presidential candidates are not focusing enough attention on children. However, according to Children’s Budget 2012 a report issued by First Focus, only $0.08 of every federal dollar is spent on children. The financial stability, educational success, and health quality of our children all require investment. The federal budget does not reflect these investments as high priorities. We need to switch these priorities, and this could start in the presidential election. As Pres. Obama stated during the debate, our priorities make a difference. Let’s show that children are a priority for all of us during this presidential election.

In addition to monitoring the issues of importance to children and families, those of us concerned about children should continue to push the candidates to give us more detail about what their plans are for ensuring the next generation of children is not left worse off. Let’s ask the debate moderators to actually ask questions about the problems facing real families with children in this country. Here is how to reach the moderators. Use the hashtag#kids2012.

Vice presidential debate:
Thursday, October 11, Centre College, Danville, KY
Moderator: Martha Raddatz, Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent, ABC News
washingtonweek@pbs.org
Twitter: @martharaddatz

Second presidential debate (town meeting format):
Tuesday, October 16, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY
Moderator: Candy Crowley, Chief Political Correspondent, CNN and Anchor, CNN’s State of the Union
candy.crowley@turner.com
Twitter: @crowleyCNN

Third presidential debate:
Monday, October22, Lynn University, Boca Raton, FL
Moderator: Bob Schieffer, Chief Washington Correspondent, CBS News and Moderator, Face the Nation
facethenation@cbsnews.com
Twitter: @BobSchieffer