CFK Weekly - December 19, 2005
Jan Richter, Connect for Kids’ Advocacy Director, is working on her annual “Crystal Ball” Weekly, to be posted on the Connect for Kids homepage in mid-January. If you want to share your insights on what 2006 may bring for kids and families, especially in the political arena, send them to email@example.com.
Putting the Brakes on Sports
Teamwork. Friends. Healthy exercise. That’s the upside of organized sports and activities for kids. But what about the downside? Loss of family time. Stress. Weekends in the car. Andrea Grazzini Walstrom decided to take action to reclaim at least part of each precious weekend. Walstrom talks about the birth of Balance4Success, the group she started in Minnesota.
Darwin: Putting a Human Face on Evolution
With debates over teaching evolution and intelligent design being carried out throughout the nation, professor Larry Arnhart believes that Darwin himself can offer biology teachers a helping hand out of the quagmire. The Northern Illinois University political scientist recently shared his thoughts on “teaching the controversy by teaching Darwin” with Rob Capriccioso.
Congress Reaches Conference Agreement on Budget
Today, members of the committee reached a conference agreement on the federal budget. The House and Senate are each expected to vote on the report by the end of today (Monday). The overall picture is grim for families and communities. Although some low-income cuts in the House bill have been dropped, many remained; and the conference report is closer in many respects to the House version than the Senate bill, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Here’s a quick overview of some provisions:
* Medicaid. According to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates, the conference report retains the majority of the Medicaid cuts contained in the House-passed bill that directly affect low-income beneficiaries.
* Child Care. The conference agreement includes $1 billion in additional funds for child care – but that’s $7.4 billion less than the CBO estimates that states will need to meet the new increased TANF work requirements.
* Child Support Enforcement. According to the CBO, the final bill includes a $1.5 billion cut in federal funding for child support enforcement over the next five years and a $4.9 billion cut over the next ten years.
* Foster Care. Foster care funding loses $343 million -- including two cuts that will make it harder for some states to provide federally funded foster care benefits to certain grandparents and other relatives who are raising children.
* Student aid. The bill cuts $12.7 billion from the federal student loan program – primarily by locking in interest rates often at a higher level than the current variable rates.
The CBPP analysis has more detail.
Budget Bill Includes Significant Changes to Welfare Program
Despite a non-binding Senate vote last week that instructed conference negotiators to oppose its inclusion, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare to work program was included in the conference agreement. According to CBPP, the agreement forces states to meet expensive (and unfunded) new work requirements similar to those in the controversial House-passed TANF bill. The work requirements appear to apply to programs run with state funds as well as those using federal funds.
Defense Bill Adds Further Cuts
The House also approved a Defense Department appropriations bill in the wee hours of Monday morning. On Sunday, lawmakers moved an amendment from the budget bill to the defense bill that opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for drilling; the move helped the budget bill pass. In addition to the controversial ANWR provision, this defense bill contains a 1 percent across-the-board cut to funding levels for discretionary programs (except veterans affairs), including education, housing, WIC, Head Start, job training, and others. That's on top of any existing cuts to programs in other appropriations bills. The Senate was expected to vote on the bill on Monday.
The Budget and Other Bills – Why Advocates are Still Breaking a Sweat
It’s past the proverbial 11th hour, but advocates are still working hard to figure out the impact of the budget and related bills on families and communities, and keep the heat on Congress when it comes to big tax breaks. If Congress doesn’t finalize tax bills before adjourning early this week, they’ll resume the effort in January. Despite the level of harmful cuts in the final budget bill, there is also evidence that the mobilization of advocates and constituents helped fend off even worse cuts. The Coalition on Human Needs and others are working to keep this momentum up, and offer details on the pending tax bills.
More Tax Cuts, Higher Deficits
This report from the Economic Policy Institute offers a clear look at the impact on the deficit of tax cuts being considered by Congress.
Martin Luther King Day of Service Grants Request for Proposals
As Martin Luther King, Jr. knew and the recent tragedy of Hurricane Katrina has reminded us, poverty is an “evil which plagues the modern world.” With that in mind, The National Association of Service and Conservation Corps (NASCC) will provide subgrants to organizations that undertake anti-poverty service projects surrounding Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (January 16, 2006), particularly those that mobilize disadvantaged youth as volunteers. Applications should be sent to Matt Ferris at firstname.lastname@example.org by January 12, 2005 and will be considered and approved on a first-come, first-served basis.
“A Home for the Holidays” TV Special Celebrates Joys of Adoption
There are currently half a million children in foster care in the United States; 119,000 of these children are available for adoption. Each year, this TV special seeks to raise national awareness and connect waiting children with potential adoptive families through an 800 number displayed during the program. The one-hour show features celebrity performances and stories from American families who share the joys of adoption. It airs on Wednesday, December 21, at 8:00 p.m. EST/PST on CBS; check local listings.
Making the Holidays Less Materialistic
It can be hard to look beyond all of the product-driven hoopla to see what the holidays are really about. The nonprofit information site, KidsHealth, offers ways to help decrease materialism in kids and reinforce the real reason for the season.
Snapshot of Children on the California Border
In the border state of California, many of the area’s children feel close ties to Mexico, Asia and other countries. This Children Now fact sheet examines issues children face on the California-Mexico border, provides characteristics of families and children, and offers recommendations for investments and policy improvements that can strengthen family well-being in the region.
North Dakota KidsCount
'Tis the season when many states will release new KidsCount data – and North Dakota is one of them, offering several new reports, including an Overview of Children’s Well-Being, Head Start fact sheets, and a 2005 Data Guide.
Newark, NJ KidsCount
Investments in preschool for Newark's youngest students are paying off, with fewer fourth graders failing statewide tests, according to Newark Kids Count 2005, an annual snapshot of the state of children growing up in New Jersey's largest city. The state’s preschool programs are helping address academics and overall well-being according to the report.
Risk and Protective Factors of Pennsylvania’s Youth
A new report from the nonprofit Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children finds that many teens feel unrecognized and unsupported by their teachers and parents. A survey of sixth, eighth, tenth and twelfth graders found that 45 percent feel they’re not praised by teachers for good work, that their teachers do not tell parents about good work, and that they do not feel safe in school. A third of young respondents said they don’t feel strong enough family attachments to share thoughts and feelings with parents.
Depression and Role Impairment among Adolescents in Primary Care Clinics
It will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen someone through depression – but a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health offers evidence that teens who struggle with depression are at risk of poorer school/work performance and educational attainment. The findings emphasize the importance of primary care clinicians’ attention to depression and its accompanying limitations.
School Mental Health Services in the United States 2002 – 2003
This report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration describes the first national survey of mental health services in a representative sample of the approximately 83,000 public elementary, middle, and high schools. Topics include types of mental health problems common in school settings, services available, numbers and qualifications of school mental health services staff, provision for mental health services delivery—including partnerships with community-based providers, and funding sources.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also offers a Family Guide to Systems of Care for Children with Mental Health Needs. (In English and Spanish.)
Conference Announcement: a System of Care for Children¹s Mental Health -- Expanding the Research Base
The 19th annual national conference on children’s mental health and systems of care research will be help February 22-24, 2006 in Tampa FL. You can register online today.
A New Look at the Nation’s Report Card: Poor States Score Better
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test (often called Our Nation’s Report Card) ranks states based on student achievement on standardized tests. But it doesn’t take into account student poverty rates, which are correlated with performance. A new Standard & Poor's report adjusts NAEP scores by poverty levels and finds that some persistently low-performing states – like Oklahoma and Louisiana – actually scored above average when student poverty rates are taken into account. The report is designed to help states more accurately assess what’s working and what’s not, for their populations.
College Grads’ Literacy Rates Decline
The National Assessment of Adult Literacy, given by the U.S. Department of Education, finds a significant decline in the average American college graduate’s literacy in English in the past ten years. The Department says the findings underscore a critical need for high school reform.
New No Child Left Behind Rule for Disabled Student Testing
On December 14, Education Secretary Spellings announced plans to triple the number of disabled students that schools can partially exempt from No Child Left Behind tests, exempting 1 million more students with special needs. The Department currently lets states test one percent of students -- those with the most significant cognitive disabilities -- at their instruction level (not grade level) and count their "proficient" scores in Adequate Yearly Progress determinations. The new regulations will explain how states can further modify their academic standards.
Education Trust recently issued two reports on boosting achievement of all students: “Gaining Traction, Gaining Ground: How Some High Schools Accelerate Learning for Struggling Students" and "Power to Change: High Schools that Help All Students Achieve."
The Effects of State Pre-Kindergarten on Young Children's School Readiness in Five States
Do state preschool programs make a difference for kids? In a word: yes, according to a rigorous assessment from the National Institute for Early Education Research. In a study of 5,071 kindergarten-age children in five states -- Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia -- those who attended state-funded preschool programs scored higher on early language, literacy, and math tests. The differences were statistically significant, and applied to children of all economic backgrounds.
Preschool: A Sound Investment for States
Pre-K advocates can add another report to the growing body of evidence that investment in our earliest learners pays off in the long run. This latest study, from the Rand Corporation, focuses on California’s pre-K plans, and finds that every $1 invested in preschool returns $2.62 in reduced special education, juvenile crime, and the need for many children to repeat grades -- and in a better-educated work force, improved work performance, and greater global competitiveness. Currently, only nine states do not offer some form of state-funded preschool, according to Pre-K Now.
State Housing Aid Can Help Ease Transition from Welfare to Work in Rural America, Says HAC Report
For families leaving welfare, finding and maintaining affordable housing can present a great challenge, says Easing the Transition: Housing Assistance for Rural TANF Recipients, a report from the Housing Assistance Council. The study identifies a number of specific obstacles rural welfare leavers face when they search for affordable housing.
The Face of Homelessness
An article in the West Virginia State Journal looks at how four counties are taking part in the month-long “Walk A Mile” program that gives public officials a first-hand look at what life is like for adults and families who are homeless or near-homeless.
Unaccompanied Homeless Youth in Illinois: 2005
Nearly 25,000 homeless youth need shelter in Illinois, according to the first statewide survey of homeless youth in 20 years (undertaken by the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless youth committee, in collaboration with the University of Illinois at Chicago).
The Kaiser Network reports that the share of homeless youth in Illinois who have been pregnant has more than doubled in the past 20 years.
Center for Mental Health Services: Programs for the Homeless
As many as 700,000 Americans are homeless on any given night, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. An estimated one-fourth of these people have serious mental illnesses, and need a broad range of services. Here’s an overview of the Center for Mental Health Services and its programs to help homeless people living with mental illnesses get treatment and other services while transitioning out of homelessness.
Food Stamp Decision May Leave Families out in the Cold; Hardship Likely to Result
Last week, Bush administration denied a request by five states to use the projected rise in home-heating costs to increase food-stamp benefits. Instead, feds say families should rely on the Low-Income Energy and Heating Assistance Program (LiHEAP), which may get a $1 billion increase in the federal budget. But according to CBPP, the funding increase for LiHEAP would be enough to cover only those families currently enrolled; Census data show that fewer than one-fourth of food stamp households receive any energy assistance.
Food Stamp Use on the Rise: Better Access, Hurricanes, and a Stagnant Economy
Food stamp participation rose by 1,771,404 people from August to September 2005 to 27,537,209, largely due to the nutrition relief needed by victims of Hurricane Katrina. Four states most affected by Hurricane Katrina ( Louisiana, Alabama, Texas and Mississippi) accounted for more than 1.51 million of the 1.77 million new cases in September. The other cases are being attributed to wage stagnation, state and local action to improve program access to the program, and the effects of the implementation of the 2002 food stamp reauthorization.
Woonsocket, Rhode Island Launches Universal Breakfast Program
Next month, all students at the Woonsocket Middle School and Bernon Heights Elementary School in Woonsocket, Rhode Island will start receiving free breakfasts regardless of income. (Free registration required.)
A Rural Struggle to Keep the Family Fed
This National Public Radio article discusses the plight of the "food insecure" in rural places and the special challenges they face such as high gas prices that make the hunt for cheap or free food expensive.
Happy holidays to all!
Caitlin Johnson, sr. writer, and the Connect for Kids team