Do California leaders need to stay after school?

California’s performance ranking in five key areas, including health care, dropped a grade on the annual report card issued by Children Now, leaving the Golden State with its most tarnished marks in the 20-year history of the advocacy group’s rating system.

Due mainly to brutal cuts in the state’s FY09-10 budget by the Legislature and the governor in children’s programs, California “earned the worst grades ever” for 2009, said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now. Lempert, a former state legislator, summed up the state’s dire performance during a legislative briefing held in the Capitol on Monday afternoon for staff members of the Legislature.

Still, Lempert, joined by vice president Wilma Chan and Kelly Hardy, associate director of health policy for Children Now, tried to emphasize the possibilities for improvement in coming budget discussions. “There are lots of opportunities to move forward this year on children’s health,” Hardy told the group. The silver lining in getting California’s children through the tough budget cuts last year came in the form of an unprecedented financial boost from the federal government.

The increase in federal matching funds did not pull California out of its economic doldrums, however; it merely helped keep pace somewhat with the increased need brought about by the loss of job-based health coverage as more and more parents became unemployed, Hardy said.
The areas in which California performed worse than in previous years were:

Children’s oral health: the state’s marks dropped from a “C to a D”
Infant health: the state’s marks dropped from a “B- to a C+”
Adolescent health: the state dropped from a “B- to a C+”
K-12 education: the state dropped from a “C- to a D”
Integrated services: the state dropped from a “D+ to a D”

In response to legislative staff questions about the methodology of Children Now’s assessment, Lempert responded that the organization examined statistics, policy program decisions and also took a broad view of the outlook for the 9.4 million children currently living in California. In the final analysis, he said, “The methodology was similar to the academic grading process in that it was somewhat subjective.”

There was widespread recognition in the room that things will not become rosier overnight. “We know this is going to be another bad year for children in the California budget,” Chan said. “But people in this building have to make kids a higher priority – so our children and our economic future won’t become sicker.” The report card can be found online at the Children Now website, reports and research section.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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