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Children's Issues Take Back Seat to Security

Children's issues aren't what they were at past Democratic conventions. Instead, the party's priorities this week are national security and foreign policy. Education, health care, and safe neighborhoods are not the delegates' focus this week. Instead, national security and foreign policy are the Democrats' top priorities. Some politicians are arguing that these are the new children's issues; some children's advocates say that is short-sighted.

''These are things that affect all Americans, including children," said Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana. ''Any time we are at war . . . and any time we have had thousands of innocent civilians killed, as we did on Sept. 11, that is going to be a major focus to the country."

The Democrats' platform reveals the sweeping change. Education is not even mentioned until page 22 of the 37-page platform committee report. By contrast, the first third of the 2000 Democratic platform focused entirely on education.

But some Democrats believe that their party's priorities need to remain focused on America's youth. ''The greatest concern is not about terrorism, is not about national security," said US Representative John Lewis of Georgia. ''People are also concerned about the well-being of our young people, the well-being of our children."

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who mounted his own bid for the Democratic nomination, challenges his party to advocate such issues more strongly.

''I think [children's issues] have been pushed further and further to the back," Sharpton said in an interview with young reporters covering the convention. ''Any civilized society has to push its children and the care of its children out front."

A prominent children's researcher believes that these issues need to remain a top priority. While noting that in general the well-being of children has improved over the past 12 years, Tony Cipollone, a vice president of Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, said that if the nation doesn't ''look at those issues explicitly, I think it's going to be tough to maintain progress."

Among such issues, the most important are education, health care, and the economy. Young people interviewed in New York, Indiana, and Michigan prior to the Democratic convention cited classroom conditions as key concerns.

Richard Hooker, 15, a student at the Bronx School of Science, said his classes have become extremely crowded since the No Child Left Behind Act took effect. ''Every classroom has about 30 students," he said. ''Some have even 40, and music appreciation has 50."

Young people are aware of the rocky state of the economy, and many of those interviewed said the high price of gasoline was affecting their lives. Fifteen-year-old Andrea Phillips of Indianapolis said gas prices were so high that her older brother was now charging her for rides.

But such problems aren't being addressed by delegates as they were eight years ago.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York used her 1996 speech to the convention to promote education and children's health issues, including proposing a plan to reduce college costs and provide health insurance for children. These issues appealed to American voters then, who were in the midst of a strengthening economy. Despite the Oklahoma City bombing and a commitment of 20,000 US soldiers to the crisis in Bosnia, Democrats remained focused on family issues.

Four years later, Vice President Al Gore built his 2000 Democratic platform around similar goals: improving education, lowering college costs, ensuring children had adequate health care, and reducing crime in neighborhoods.

Prior to the 2000 elections, the economy was still strong and the nation was running a budget surplus. International matters were not of immediate concern. Unlike in her speeches in 1996 and 2000, Clinton's address this week focused on affordable health care and national security.

This article is a collaborative effort of youth journalists from Children's PressLine (New York City), 8-18 Media (Marquette, Mich.) and Y-Press (Indianapolis).

— Brian Reissaus and Samantha Coulter
Boston Globe
2004-07-28
http://www.boston.com/news/education/k_12/articles/2004/07/28/childrens_issues_take_back_seat_to_security/


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