“Just in case you hadn’t seen this,” a friend wrote, passing along the latest piece by Greg Sargent at the Washington Post. “The next big liberal cause,” he called universal child care. “Does it really have a chance?” my friend asked. The multi-billion-dollar question.


Sargent’s “next big liberal cause” was Strong Start for America’s Children, introduced by Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania as an amendment to the measure reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and overhauling No Child Left Behind. Last week, my screen lit up with pleas from advocates for children across the land.  Earlier this morning, the Senate voted against it.

Sargent zoomed in on full-day preschool. He talked about the $30-billion federal carrot—funding for the states, over five years, to support high-quality programs for four-year-olds from families earning less than 200 percent of that outdated federal poverty level ($48,000 for a family of four). States already serving three-year-olds could use the money to opt for expansion.

I loved Sargent’s dip in to the murky weeds of public policy:

The program would be funded by the scaling back of “corporate inversions,” in which companies declare that their U.S. operations are owned by a subsidiary abroad, resulting in profits being shifted to places where they are taxed at lower rates. The proposal would reconstitute an earlier Dem proposal that would require companies to be at least 50-percent foreign owned to use the technique, rather than the current requirement that it only be 20-percent foreign owned, lowering the incentive for companies to resort to the practice, which members of both parties have condemned.

So thrilling to think that we might see perks cut for corporations—the very ones that are making billions as we retrofit education for the 21st century. Never mind that early care and education had witnessed the evisceration of  Obama’s initial proposal of $75 billion (with an additional $15 billion thrown in for home visiting), announced in his 2013 State of the Union address.

What about that strong start?  Sargent—no surprise—wrote nothing about the birth-through-three contingent of early childhood, a group that we ignore at our peril. The amendment did support collaboration between Early Head Start and child care, which serve infants and toddlers, funding for whom is woefully inadequate, and constantly in jeopardy.

I’m the last person to argue against preschool for all, but it’s not enough. We need to start nourishing these little humans from the get-go—and that means prenatally.

Last year was the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the United States has still refused to ratify, along with Somalia and South Sudan.  In case you haven’t reviewed it lately–and you’re not driven crazy by redundancy–here’s the gist of Article 3, courtesy of a Unicef fact sheet:

The best interest of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. All adults should do what is best for children…When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children. This particularly applies to budget, policy, and law makers. (bold-face, mine)

Amnesty International’s also been on the case, summarizing those rights in “Frequently Asked Questions,” posted on their website. Freedom from violence, abuse, exploitation, hazardous employment, exploitation, abduction or sale leads the call to action. Free compulsory education is wedged between adequate nutrition and health care. Next up: equal treatment regardless of gender, race, or culture, followed by the right to freedom of expression and safe access to leisure, play, culture, and art. So sensible, and comprehensive.

As for America’s procrastination problem, well, “international treaties undergo extensive examination and scrutiny before they are ratified in the United States,” the third FAQ tells us. (Apparently, 30 years passed before we ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.)

Not least of the impediments has been the opposition, led for a time by Jesse Helms. The five-time senator from North Carolina and conservative gadfly who died on Independence Day in 2008, pronounced the agreement “incompatible with the God-given right and responsibility of parents to raise their children.”

Rick Santorum is following in this hallowed tradition. “The government wants their hand on your children as fast as they can,” he warned in a town hall meeting in Iowa during his first presidential run, referring to “early starts, pre-early starts, and early-early starts” as indoctrination that only a socialist could love.

Maybe it’s time to call in the services of Pope Francis. He’s been on the stump in Latin America lately, excoriating the excesses of global capitalism.  “The dung of the devil,” he’s called them.

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