Underlying our work at Voices for Children is the fundamental belief that all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, ability, and geography are able to achieve their full potential. What would it mean if all children in Connecticut were able to realize their full potential? It would mean that all youth would graduate from high school ready for success in college or career. It would mean that employers could count on a well-trained workforce. It would mean a dramatic reduction in today’s achievement gap, a sharp decrease in child poverty, an increase in median wages, and a healthier economy fueled by a growing middle class with increased demand for products and services. By making a commitment to equitable opportunity for all children, our state could advance our overall economic standing at the same time as it advanced quality of life and child and family wellbeing.
Our 2015 legislative priorities are guided by this foundational belief in equity and opportunity, and we strive to address racial and ethnic disparities in healthy childhood development, in educational opportunity, and for family success. We encourage policymakers to consider our priorities as we work together to achieve equity for all children in Connecticut.
First, we must ensure that children of all races and ethnicities have the chance for healthy childhood development. Implementation of national health reform has built on the successes of our HUSKY Health program. This year we must support federal legislation to extend funding of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to protect the gains we have made in health care access for children, pregnant women and families. On the state level, we support maintaining current eligibility and benefits for children, parents and pregnant women in the HUSKY program. We support health reform initiatives, including the federally funded State Innovation Model, to promote access to timely, appropriate, culturally competent, and integrated care for children and families. We will seek renewed legislative funding for independent performance monitoring of HUSKY. For children and youth to become healthy adults their behavioral health needs must be addressed without stigma, using evidence based methods that are developmentally and culturally appropriate. We support policies that improve access for all children, including our youngest children, to a full continuum of behavioral health and substance abuse services and supports.
Second, every child in Connecticut should have access to high quality public education from cradle to career enabling all of our children to graduate ready for success in school, the workplace and society. We support the creation of an integrated statewide system of early care and education to increase access to and improve the quality of state-subsidized programs. We seek amendments to the state’s child care subsidy program that will avoid disincentives to work and ensure compliance with new federal requirements and recommendations, including establishing an eligibility period of no less than 12 months and allowing families earning up to 85% of the state median income to continue to participate in the program. Additionally, we recognize the importance of attracting and retaining high quality early childhood educators, and recommend developing a rate structure that will support salaries commensurate with the educational qualifications mandated for teachers in state funded child care settings.
We also support an educational system that values keeping students in the classroom where they learn best and that grants each child, regardless of race, education status, and socioeconomic status the right to an equal and high-quality education. We support an overall reduction in the use of exclusionary school discipline policies, with a focus on decreasing the disproportionate impact such policies have on minority populations. Voices for Children research shows that Black and Latino students are arrested, expelled, and suspended from school at disproportionate rates than their white peers. To reduce these disparities and increase transparency of this issue, we propose a uniform definition of “school arrest” and the mandatory collection of comprehensive school discipline data by public school systems.
Finally, many children face barriers to success based on family instability, family income, race or ethnicity and/or town resources. Our family economic security work promotes family friendly tax policies and a two-generation approach to family learning and economic attainment. Recognizing that not all families are able to offer safe and nurturing homes, our child welfare work will focus on the following initiatives. All working families should be able to meet their basic needs. To that end, we support restoring the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to 30 percent of the federal credit and by enacting a tax exemption for dependent family members targeted at moderate-income families and phasing out at higher incomes. Connecticut is one of only two states that do not adjust income tax to reflect the cost of raising children.
Developing healthy and permanent relationships is essential for young people in foster care – overwhelmingly youth of color –to become successful adults. Without secure and stable relationships, youth who grow up in foster care have greater difficulty achieving positive life outcomes. We therefore support legislation that would help youth establish permanent adult relationships, prevent youth homelessness, support youth transition to adulthood, and ensure social workers have the time to meet the needs of children in their care. With regard to social work capacity, the state should conduct a work load study.
For more information, see our policy priorities.