THOMAS PUTNAM: I'm Tom Putnam, Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and on behalf of all of my Library and Library Foundation colleagues, I thank you all for coming on this beautiful afternoon, which after a long, cold winter holds the promise of spring.
I'm pleased to acknowledge the underwriters of the Kennedy Library Forums, including lead sponsor, Bank of America, along with Boston Capital, the Lowell Institute, the Boston Foundation, the Corcoran Jennison Companies, and our media sponsors, The Boston Globe, WBUR and NECN.
In his inaugural address, John F. Kennedy stated, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” A few hours after delivering that address, his first official act as President was an Executive Order to provide more food aid for needy families in response to the poverty that he had witnessed as he campaigned across the country. At the end of his presidency, President Kennedy was preparing to unveil a number of new initiatives that under Lyndon Johnson's leadership would become known as the War on Poverty and that were directed initially by Sargent Shriver. Despite these efforts, a few years later Robert Kennedy was similarly touched by witnessing the lives of malnourished children he visited in Appalachia, in the Mississippi delta, where he was accompanied by one of our speakers today, Marian Wright Edelman.
After the loss of RFK, Senator Edward M. Kennedy vowed, “Like my three brothers before me, I pick up a fallen standard. Sustained by our priceless years together, I shall try to carry forward that special commitment to justice that distinguished their lives.” As we know, among his other accomplishments, Senator Kennedy proceeded to dedicate himself to the cause of improving the lives of children, especially those living in poverty.
Today in the very room in which his body lay in repose and that was, for me, consecrated by the thousands whose lives he touched and who came here to pay their last respects, we gather to reflect on Senator Kennedy's legacy towards children. And in keeping with his own indefatigable spirit, we will also examine the challenges of our own times, the legislative battles and gridlock in Washington, and the attempts of the current administration and citizen advocates to find new ways to improve the lot of the youngest and most vulnerable in our society.
We are honored to have a distinguished panel to discuss these issues with us, beginning with Ted Kennedy's closest friend in the United States Senate, Senator Christopher Dodd. [applause] Senator Dodd spoke from this very podium at the memorial service for Senator Kennedy, and he told the story that though nearing the end of his life, Ted Kennedy was one of the first to call him as he was recuperating last spring from surgery quipping, “Between going through a treatment for prostate cancer or attending town hall meetings on the Obama healthcare plan, I think you made the right choice.” [laughter]
A leading voice in Congress, Senator Dodd is known for bringing much needed attention to children's issues. He formed the first children's caucus in the Senate, and indicative of his many legislative successes, he led the fight to enact the Family and Medical Leave Act, which has helped insure that 50 million Americans don't have to choose between the job they need and the family they love. Senator, we're honored to have you here with us today, and thank you for all you have done for children throughout your career. [applause]
Marian Wright Edelman grew up in the segregated town of Bennettsville, North Carolina, and later became the first African-American woman to be admitted to the bar in Mississippi, where she directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Office in Jackson in the mid 1960s. In 1968, she was recruited by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., to be counsel to the Poor People's March. And in 1973, she established the Children's Defense Fund, which has become the most powerful voice ever created for children. She's been honored over the world for her lifelong commitment to justice and civil rights, including having received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation's highest civilian honor. She happens also to be here this weekend as a member of the Kennedy Library Foundation's Profile in Courage Award Committee, though you'll notice we didn't sit her next to Senator Dodd to prevent any last minute lobbying that might bias those deliberations. [laughter]
Having just referenced Mississippi in the 1960s, I should note that we're joined in the audience by John Dorr, who served as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Justice under Robert Kennedy, during which time he was involved in several of the most significant events of the American Civil Rights Movement, including accompanying James Meredith as he registered to be the first African-American student at the University of Mississippi. He is a true and unsung American hero and, Mr. Dorr, would you please stand so we can recognize you? [applause]
Mark Greenberg is a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Policy in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Before joining the Obama Administration, he directed the Georgetown University Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy. During his career, Mr. Greenberg has written extensively on issues relating to welfare reform and poverty reduction strategies. In scanning the web for stories on Mr. Greenberg, I smiled when first finding a link to a speech he gave a month after the last election entitled, “How the Obama Administration Can and Should Address Poverty Issues.” And then to read a subsequent announcement nine months later that he was being named to a post at HHS to implement those very policies. At a time when many question the ability of the federal government to solve problems like the pervasiveness of poverty, we salute your service, Mr. Greenberg, and wish you and the President well in your efforts. [applause]
Shirley Sagawa has been called the Founding Mother of the national service movement. She began her career working with Senator Kennedy as the Chief Counsel for Youth Policy for the Senate Labor Committee. She went on to serve as Deputy Chief of Staff to First Lady Hillary Clinton and was the first Chief Operating Officer for the Corporation for National Service and AmeriCorps. She has a new book coming out this April, which she is dedicating to Senator Kennedy, titled, The American Way to Change: How National Service and Volunteers are Transforming America.
Our moderator this afternoon is Christina Paxson, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. A member of the Princeton faculty since 1986, she's the founding director of the Center of Health and Well Being at the Wilson School, a renowned expert on the relationship between economic status and health outcomes, and a senior editor of The Future of Children, a policy journal published by the school and the Brookings Institution. I should pause to note that the Journal's Executive Director, Elizabeth Hirschhorn Donahue, is also here today and has been especially helpful to us in assembling this extraordinary panel and attracting this capacity audience.
I'm fortunate to be an alum of the Woodrow Wilson School and as a small town kid from Maine, a beneficiary of its generous scholarship program that encourages and allows graduates to pursue careers in public service. And so I am deeply appreciative, humbled and proud to share the stage with Dean Paxson today.
In a speech in 1977, Senator Kennedy stated, “If there are some children in this land, whether because they are black or because they were born on a reservation or because they are poor, if there are some children who do not have an equal opportunity for a quality education and access to adequate healthcare, then there are some children who are not free.” Please join me in welcoming our distinguished panel who each in their own way have dedicated themselves to expanding the freedom of all children, wherever they may live, beginning now with special remarks from Senator Christopher Dodd. [applause]
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, thank you, Tom, very, very much. And let me thank all of you for coming out on this glorious day. I'm glad they drew the blinds behind us so you wouldn't know the day you're missing here. It's been seven months since the sun has shined in New England, I think, so we're delighted to see so many of you here. And I'm particularly honored to be a very junior partner in this wonderful team of experts you're going to hear from this afternoon, and to be back on this stage only a few months ago, as Tom pointed out, to be here for the wonderful memorial service to Teddy here at the Library. And so it's a bittersweet moment to be back in this forum and in this room.
But what a wonderful idea! And I want to commend the Library for hosting these forums to not only talk about Ted Kennedy's legacy and the Kennedy legacy, his brothers as well and their commitment to these issues, but as importantly to talk about what they would be saying about today and where they‟d want to see us go forward. Teddy was always thinking of the future. And I can tell you even in his waning days of life last summer in the meetings I'd have with him, stopping to visit him in Hyannis, he was anxious to know what was happening with healthcare, what was going to happen with elementary and secondary education, always looking ahead to wonder what the next step would be and how we could improve the quality of life for one out of every four Americans who are under the age of 18.
Now, what Tom didn't tell you in the introduction is, of course, I've also announced my retirement from the United States Senate come next January. So my status is diminishing a bit here, as you might sense. Lately, I've discovered the only value I had in the Senate is I was able to achieve sledding on Capitol Hill grounds from the Capitol Hill police. So my influence is waning here in the process. I was reminded when John McCormack was once asked when he announced his retirement from a singing career, at the height of that career, someone asked, “Why are you quitting?” He said, “Because I'd rather be asked why are you quitting than why haven't you quit along the way.”
So today I'll be talking not only about what I believe Teddy's accomplishments and what his goals were, but also the motivations that he brought with such a degree of passion and interest in the subject matter. And then, obviously, to talk about current events and where we are stepping forward as well. And I can't tell you what an honor it is to be with Shirley and Mark and Marian with whom I bonded with so many years ago. I don't do anything without Marian Wright Edelman's blessing when it comes to children's issues. And so anything she says, I'll just endorse right now ahead of time rather than have to face anything that comes along.
And let me just conclude with this to you, because I've thought a lot about this. I've been often asked, because we had such a wonderful friendship, Teddy and I did over the years, that his commitment to these issues was just so deep. It went beyond the normal policy discussions, the Monday morning staff meetings. I can't tell you on how many occasions sailing with him off the coast of Hyannis on Maya or other places with him where no one else was there, there was no audience to hear his remarks, there was no group to convince of the legitimacy of his points, how deeply he felt about these issues. It was not something he took lightly. It was the part of his being in every conversation he engaged in, almost without exception.
And so it's worthwhile we talk on this subject matter. I don't think there's any other subject matter that binds all of us together, whatever differences we talk about, whatever divisions may exist in our country today, I think every single one of us -- not only in this room this afternoon, but across the state, across our country -- if we were asked one thing, one thing that we all shared in common, were part of our hopes and dreams, it would be for our children or our grandchildren, that they‟d have a better life.
In a sense, it's poignant that I'm here this afternoon. I wasn't sure I was going to make it here. I'm a late bloomer in the father business. I have a five year old and an eight year old, which is to say I'm the only candidate for office that got mail from AARP and diaper services. And my five year old ended up in the emergency room at Children's Hospital last night in Washington. It's March and this kind of rotavirus is going around. It had been 24 to 48 hours of her being pretty sick and we called the pediatrician and was recommended after a while that, “You probably ought to get to an emergency room to get hydrated,” because of the significant dehydration.
So about midnight last night, we arrived at the Children's Hospital emergency room on North Capitol Street in Washington. And walking to that emergency room, seeing it packed with young children, who for the most part didn't have Blue Cross Blue Shield or some policy. Many, of course, would not be there at all because of the fear that if they went, they couldn't afford to pay for it to begin with. And I couldn't help but think after about 20 minutes, Christina was being hydrated, she's doing well, she's still there this morning getting back on her feet. But I never paused for a single second wondering if I could pay for it or not, whether or not she‟d be able to get that kind of treatment that she needed.
And I couldn't help but think not only of the children who are showing up very late in the process are in that room because it was that kind of an emergency, or how many families in the District of Columbia that evening who had a child who was dehydrated, wondering whether or not they were going to get better, and also fearful that they‟d never be able to find the help and support they needed for that child.
I don't care what your politics are, I don't care where you come from, there's not a single one of us here who believes that that child in the District of Columbia, or Boston, Massachusetts, or Hartford, Connecticut, ought to be ever denied that kind of help and support that that family needs at a critical moment like that. This great nation of ours needs to do better. We're getting better at this, but we need to do more. [applause] So today, let's talk about where we are and how we can chart this road ahead. In the fond memory of a great, great advocate of Ted Kennedy. So thank you all for the invitation to be here. [applause]
CHRISTINA PAXSON: Thanks, Senator. So I'm very happy to be able to talk to the four of you today. And what I thought we would do is have a conversation until about 3:00, and then we'll take some questions from the audience. What I want to do is focus most of our time on talking about where we are with child policy and where we're going in the future. But I thought we might want to start by talking a little bit about what you have done and how it relates to Senator Kennedy's work.
So I thought I would start with Marian. And you have a lot in common with Senator Kennedy in that you've been a champion for poor children your entire career. And there's a quote that I read that you said when you were looking back over the Children's Defense Fund's thirty-year history, you noted it was “born to give voice to those who had neither been seen nor heard. All of America's children, especially poor, minority, and disabled children, left behind in our rich nation.” And I was hoping you could help us understand what you meant there and talk a little bit about what motivated you to take on advocacy and how the work of CDF sort of paralleled what Senator Kennedy was doing?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Well, I grew up in a poor rural county that is still poor and rural with 20 percent unemployment right now. But I was born with parents and community people who tried to live their faith. And so poverty was everywhere, but we always knew that it was our responsibility to try to change that. I have a passion about healthcare because I saw when I was a child an accident on the highway where we lived, and it was between a white truck driver and a migrant family. And I saw the ambulance come and see that the white truck driver was not hurt, and he drove away leaving the very poor migrants on that highway. I was six or seven, but those kinds of things seer yourself through.
I lost my three-houses-down-neighbor who was poor, living with his grandmother, who stepped on a nail. His grandmother had no money, didn't know about tetanus and so he died at 12. I lost another playmate who … We didn't have places to play or to swim, and so we used to swim in the local creek, which was not very far away. And little Henry Munalan jumped off the bridge and broke his neck in the swimming place, where I now know that many in the black community fished. But it was also, I learned later, where the hospital sewage outlet was. So my childhood shaped my passion, as well as my faith shaped my passion.
My father was a Baptist minister. But they believed in the creed that whenever you see a need, you try to respond. And so they tried to do that in many, many ways. But I could never bear, as a child. being excluded from anything. And I can't bear seeing any child excluded from anything. And the poor segregated schools did not give an equal education. I was lucky. I had middle class educated parents who had books in the home, but I saw the children who didn't. And so that shaped my life.
And so I was driven by faith and by the example of people who cared and tried to live out their faith: my home, my community folk. And while the outside world told me as a black girl I wasn't worth much, I didn't believe it because my parents said it wasn't so; my teacher said it wasn't so; my preacher said it wasn't so. And we were raised to change the things that we did not like.
And when I went off to Spelman College, there was Dr. King, there was Dr. Grace, and we had compulsory chapel, which I hated. But the first thing I did when I became chair of the Spelman Board was to reinstitute compulsory chapel so they would have to learn what we thought was important because those great speakers probably re-instilled it constantly. But those of us who have much, have an obligation to give back and to serve.
But the bottom line is that I've always felt very blessed to have been at the intersection of great people and great historic events where we had an outlet to change these things. And Robert Kennedy came into my life during that period of time; the Kennedys were a part of that life. And I think that we were driven, I think, by some common family rearings to serve. But I also think that we were also driven by faith.
And I remember going to one of Teddy's mini hearings on the minimum wage because he pushed forever to try to constantly improve the minimum wage and to index it so that it could be livable. But I had quoted Matthew 25 and I had read Matthew 25 many, many, many times. It's amazing how sloppy we are in our reading, and I'd always thought it was an injunction for each of us personally. But somehow, I finally read the words more clearly and saw that it was an injunction to the nations of the world who would be called before the throne of God to say, how did they comport with his mandate to feed the hungry, with God's money, to feed the hungry or heal the sick, or whatever. And he just teared up. And I realized that sort of, my goodness … but that relentless passion, the absolute commitment to trying to make life better for the most vulnerable, to speak for them, was driven by faith and driven by family and driven by service. And so I felt a great bond and what a great loss that voice is today. [applause]
CHRISTINA PAXSON: Right, thanks. You know, passion is very important, but you also have to be effective. And I think we all know that Senator Kennedy was very effective. And Shirley, you worked with him for many years. And I think at his memorial service, many who didn't know the Senator were very surprised by the tribute paid by Senator Hatch, who was a Republican Senator from Utah. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how Senator Kennedy worked with people from across the aisle and what it was like to work with him when he was doing that?
SHIRLEY SAGAWA: Well, that is so true, and something that I think we need badly right now, and I'm worried that we've lost that sense of it's always possible to find common ground. I worked for Senator Kennedy in the late „80s and early
'90s. And in the great bulk of his unbelievable career, I feel honored to have occupied this tiny little part. And I just finished reading his autobiography on my Kindle and the years that I worked for him were at 77 percent the way through the book. So I realized that having worked for somebody who had been there almost since I was born and had been through so many fights, and knew there are times you stand on principle and fight because you have to, no matter whether you're going to lose or win, and there are times when you look somebody in the eye and say, “Don't we both want to do this for kids?” and find a way around those things that divide you.
And I was lucky enough to work on a handful of bills that actually were co- sponsored by Senator Kennedy and Senator Hatch. One of them Senator Dodd took the lead on the childcare and development block grant, and that was, I think, one of the most important legacies of the labor community of that time. But I also worked on the national service legislation, every bill that's passed.
But the first one was in 1990 and it was a demonstration bill. And that was an interesting time because the idea had just come forward, was starting to bubble up, by the more sort of moderate conservative Democrats that thought, “Maybe we should get rid of financial aid and tell everybody they have to serve in order to get financial aid.” And Senator Kennedy knew from his gut that that was not a good thing, but this was going to put higher education out of reach of many people who wouldn't be able to do that, and yet the idea inspired him. Senator Hatch also was inspired by that idea because he was a Mormon and had done national service through his church. And so there was a sort of spark of opportunity there to find common ground. And then a third major player entered the scene in 1988 -- the first President Bush -- who also came to the topic with a sense of real personal public service. He was from a family of service.
So the three of them were able to sit down over many, many, many months with many other players too numerous to mention and say, “We really want to make this a country that's about serving others and that we solve problems by taking action. And we don't just want the government to solve everything, that there are things people need to do.” And the fact that they were able to start at a place where they had a common interest made it possible to work through all kinds of ridiculous policy conflicts, including how much money, whether there would be full time stipend, whether there would be higher education benefits linked to it, all kinds of very divisive issues. And yet at the end of the day, we were able to see the passage of the National Community Service Act of 1990, which was the forerunner for AmeriCorps and the forerunner for the recently passed, and signed by President Obama, Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. [applause]
I wish that we could see more policymakers like Senator Dodd and others who can say, “This is what we want to get done for the American people,” and not, “This is what I'm going to do to position my party to win the next election.”
CHRISTINA PAXSON: Do you want to comment on that?
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD: This is a great subject matter because today there's so much of this discussion, obviously the healthcare debate, having been through this and having managed the bill for Senator Kennedy and the Labor Committee all last winter and spring and summer, completing the action on July 16th, in fact. Teddy was so competitive about everything. I mean there wasn't a subject matter he wasn't competitive about. And I held the longest, I think the longest, markup in the history of the Health Committee, the 50 percent of the bill that we were responsible for. It went on for … I think we had almost 70 hours, 23 sessions. There were 800 amendments filed to the bill. We actually considered 300 amendments on that bill over the space of time, 161 of the amendments, actually the ones offered by my friends on the Republican side of the aisle that were adopted as part of the bill.
But I'll never forget the morning, about 6:00 in the morning of July 17th, the day after the 16th, I picked up the phone at 6:00. This is last July, so we're talking about a month away from Teddy's passing. And this booming voice on the end of the phone, “Our committee won. We were the first committee to mark up a bill.” First of all, he just wanted to know his committee was first to get the bill in and out of the committee.
But having watched Senator Kennedy, Teddy, work at this over the years, it always struck me as somewhat amusing that people never figured this out, how he did this and how he managed to get as much legislative product out of his committees. And what he did, and Shirley certainly hit on this, it wasn't that Teddy necessarily had these great bosom buddy relationships with these other people, they were usually the ranking Republican member of the committee, or the chairman of the committee when Teddy was the ranking Democrat. And invariably, the Republican leadership from time to time would send what they thought was the most difficult member they had to be Teddy's partner with the idea of kind of slowing him down over there in that committee.
And what they didn't understand was Teddy would go to whoever it was and say, “Tell me what you're interested in.” And they‟d say, “Well, I'm interested in the following.” “Well, let's work on that together.” And all of a sudden, that person who went over to try to stop him from getting anything done, found they had a great partner. And that became the theme for the subject matter for what they worked on. It wasn't always done that way, but he taught me early on, you never do anything of any significance in the Senate … Now the House of Representatives is different because there, the majority rules. The rules are written specifically to guarantee that a majority prevails.
The Senate, the rules are exactly the antithesis of that. The rights of a minority including a minority of one, as we learned with Jim Bunting the last couple of weeks, could have a lot more sway. So if you're going to get anything done of any significance, of any significance, you've got to find a partner on the other side to help you through it. And so going back -- and we'll talk maybe later about it -- when Orrin Hatch and I actually started the bill on the childcare development block grants, the family medical leave I did with Kit Bond and Dan Coats … I did premature births and infant screening with Lamar Alexander. On every single bill, I've had a partner.
And that was Teddy's lesson. No matter how good your ideas are, if you don't have a partner, reach out and find out where there is common ground. Don't give up on the principle, but you're going to have to work that way if you're going to achieve anything of any great worth and merit. So it's a lesson that's been lost and is more difficult. I said the other night … I'm working on this financial services bill with Bob Corker, new Senator from Tennessee. And it's getting a lot of attention that he and I are trying to work on a compromise. And I said to him the other night, “You know, I want to tell you something. This is getting big. It's stunning to me it's news. Ten years ago, fifteen years ago, this was routine. There were 30 or 40 members doing what we're doing. And it was just how you did things in order to get things done, move things along for the country.” And that could be the subject matter for another meeting here, on how you manage to get back to that day when you start trying to find out that common ground that Shirley talked about.
CHRISTINA PAXSON: Good. Mark, could you tell us something about which one of Senator Kennedy's accomplishments you think was especially important, given what your work is and what you focus on?
MARK GREENBERG: I think it's extremely hard to single out just one. And rather than single out just one, let me say that I think what's so striking about the work that Senator Kennedy did over his career is just the sheer range of initiatives. You've heard about a set of them already around national service, around childcare, around the minimum wage, his work on the Americans With Disabilities Act, his work throughout his career on healthcare, the accomplishments of the creation of the Children's Health Insurance Program, which again in partnership with Senator Hatch in moving that forward.
What's so notable across his career -- and then I would actually particularly note in thinking about the last couple of years which did not yet become law, but his work around paid sick leave for families and those workers who lack paid sick leave and his seeking legislation to establish a requirement that employers provide it. It was something that did not get enacted into law, but has played, I think, an enormous role across the country in spurring people's consideration of this type of issue and in the support for working parents involved in it.
What I would say as one -- and there's a much longer list -- and what I would say is that looking across the broad range of his career, it's both the commitment to children also, and I think this is fundamental to his strategy around child poverty, what's also notable throughout was his commitment to employment, his recognition that addressing the employment for parents, indeed for everybody, was central to a strategy for addressing poverty, viewing that as really the touchstone of work. And so his attention, again, around the minimum wage, around labor law, around civil rights enforcement, around individuals with disabilities in helping promote their involvement and supports for people who went into work.
And I think the last thing I would say that while, as we do here, while we can talk about each of the individual pieces of legislation, what was also crucial was the fact that he both focused on the individual pieces and focused on the broad themes. And emphasized a broader vision for where the nation needed to go. It was something that I think was both important in the Senate and important to people who listened to him around the country.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Can I just pick up on what Mark said? Because I think he did have a comprehensive view about how you should end child poverty, but he knew you couldn't do it all at once and that you had to see the whole thing. But then there are many doors in which you go through, and you've named a number of those doors. Because if you're going to deal with child poverty, make sure their parents, children with families, that the parents had a decent job and the expansion of the unearned income tax credit supplemented that.
He understood the importance of a safety net for those who did work but could not make ends meet. And that included things like healthcare and childcare and Head Start, which Chris worked on with him an awful lot. So he went at it in many, many pieces, but I think it was all within the context of a coherent, comprehensive whole and you kept trying to spread those rules and make them bigger. And so you see the impact that he, and working with Senator Dodd, has had on early education. He understands that education was the ultimate ticket for breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty, and he was really an extraordinarily strong voice.
And No Child Left Behind was disappointing; it didn't get all the funding needed, but tried again to get something on the books. And so the early education, the healthcare, the ways in which you could sort of make sure that parents could get what they need in a variety of ways, your disability … so he came at it through many routes. And over time, it will add up to what I hope will be a coherent strategy to end child poverty in this nation in our lifetime. [applause]
CHRISTINA PAXSON: Why don't we shift gears on that and talk about what that strategy might look like. And I think it's good to talk about where we are going forward. Marian, you have written that … I think one of the first things we have to think about is why do we care so much about this topic? It seems obvious, probably, to many people in the room. But you've written that child poverty costs our country hundreds of billions of dollars in lost productivity every year. And I was hoping you could elaborate a bit on that before we talk about specific policies.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Well, it's just unbelievable to me that we're sitting here in the richest nation on earth with a GDP of over $14 trillion talking about why we should end child poverty. [applause] It's a no-brainer.
CHRISTINA PAXSON: It was a rhetorical question.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: It should be a no-brainer because it's the right thing to do, because we say we believe in certain things, like a level playing field. I mean, inherent in what we say, in what we value as Americans. Two, because it's cheaper. We need to change the frame of the debate about how is it we can afford to end child poverty. We cannot afford not to end child poverty.
And every year we have all these children going without their very basic needs, loses us -- according to McKinsey and others, and a recent study by CAP, the Center for American Progress, and one that we did earlier with Bob Sello (?) -- about a half a trillion dollars in foregone productivity. Every year we let all these children not get what they need in terms of education. Third, you look at the data on prevention and early intervention and the cost effectiveness of seeing that our children are immunized and get preventive healthcare. You treat a child in a primary care setting in Houston, Texas, it's going to be $111 or $112. If they go with an untreated asthma attack to the emergency room, you're talking about $7,000. It's dumb not to have primary care and health coverage for every child.
[applause] And you look at the cost of not educating our children. I mean, states are spending, on average, three times more per prisoner than they are per pupil in public schools. That's really a stupid investment policy. We need every child out there on the way to reading and writing.
I got my Medicare card this year. And I want to have a strong social security system. And so we really need to think about what this is going to mean for all of us in terms of letting our children be the poorest age group in America; no other industrialized country does this. Think about the implications of our competitiveness in the future when a majority of all of our children of all races and income groups cannot read or do math at grade level in 4th, 8th or 12th grade, if they haven't already dropped out of school. And that over 80 percent of our black and Hispanic children cannot read or do math at grade level in 4th, 8th or 12th grade if they haven't dropped out. You know, we're going to be a majority minority nation soon and we're going to need them to be working for us rather than us working to maintain them. And it's the most fundamental common sense issues.
And so I hope that we can begin to talk about the fact that, you know, poverty costs us in so many ways. It costs us in our deepest values, but it costs us money, it costs us, I think, in public safety. I am just so worried about this cradle to prison pipeline that is sending one in three black boys who are eight years old today to prison, one in 17 black girls. This is the new American apartheid and we must begin to wake up and see that our children are our best investment. And our failure to invest in them is going to be … I'm convinced, it's our moral and economic Achilles heel. It's going to cripple the country. [applause]
CHRISTINA PAXSON: Yes. Well, you know, right now if you look over the last decade, between 18 and 20 percent of children are in poverty as measured -- given current methods. I know most people don't sit up and think about poverty measurement as being the most exciting issue of the day. But I actually think it's quite important. And Senator Dodd, last August you introduced the Measuring American Poverty Act, which would develop a better poverty measure. And just last week, the Commerce Department declared that it would introduce such a new definition in the fall. So I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about the bill and why it would help children. And then Mark, I was hoping you could follow up and talk a little bit about it as well?
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD: Thank you, Chris, and Mark really has done a great job on this as well. But it's one of those things that you wonder why it's taken this long. I used to remember the woman's name, Molly O‟Shemsky (?), back in the 1950s or „60s, was a relatively low level bureaucrat, I'm sure a very fine person, who tried to come up with a formula to determine, actually, what the numbers were, both based on incomes and then cost. And what she relied on primarily 50 years ago, which we've been relying on for 50 years, is whatever incomes were, and then primarily relying on things like food. In those days, food consumed about a third of a person's income, in the 1950s or early '60s.
Today, it's a seventh of that cost, and it's housing and other factors. But the formula hasn't changed. And so pretty bluntly, we've been trying to get statutorily to change that formula so you could actually get a far better reading. It doesn't mean it's necessarily producing more people in poverty, it's just a more accurate reflection of the numbers that we're confronting out there. That's why Measuring America's Poverty, this legislation is designed to do it.
The good news is you don't have to pass a bill to get something done on every occasion. In this case, we have an administration in town who gets it, people like Mark who understands this, knows more about the subject matter than I'll ever know, but have picked up on this and are going to apply in 2011 in determining, actually, the numbers we're talking about. And the numbers are critically important, not just because it's a headline or an applause line someplace, but rather, it allows us formulations of education, of healthcare, all these other matters, housing issues, to get an accurate reading so that we can determine appropriately what levels of support are needed in order to give people a chance to reach that growth that we're all seeking for them.
And the numbers are, again, and Marian has hit on them, they're stunning. We've seen a 12 percent increase in poverty just during this difficult time, and they are recession produced numbers that just in this difficult economic time, to give you an idea, we're watching graduation rates in high school go from 95 percent to 80 percent in this window. We're watching a 30 percent decline in earning power of that family in poverty. And it's about $500 billion a year, that's the round number, of what childhood poverty costs us in this country.
In terms of actual cost, and then lack of growth potential for those individuals, children coming along. So the numbers, if you're not moved by the ethics of it or the morality of it, and if you're only moved by economics, it's clear as anything, this is a matter that has to be addressed for all the reasons Marian cited. But to get good, accurate data is absolutely critical, and that's what we tried to do with the Measuring America's Poverty Act, so thanks for mentioning it.
CHRISTINA PAXSON: Can you follow up a little bit?
MARK GREENBERG: So as Senator Dodd indicates, there are many concerns with the existing official measure of poverty, or limitations in it. One is the fact that what are known as the thresholds -- how much income you have to have to be considered poor -- that those were established in the 1960s and have really only been adjusted for inflation since then.
A second kind of concern with the existing measure is that it doesn't reflect a lot of things that really affect the disposable income, the actual income that families have to meet their basic needs. So, for example, it doesn't reflect the fact that people owe taxes or that they may benefit from tax credits. It doesn't reflect the fact that if you have out of pocket medical expenses, then that impacts how much money you have left for food and clothing and shelter. It doesn't reflect childcare costs and other work related expenses that people have.
So for a number of years, there have been many discussions about how else to measure poverty. And one thing that I would emphasize, I think for everybody who's involved in this process, there's an appreciation that there is no single number that captures everything we care about. And there is not sort of just an improved number that will tell us everything we‟d want to know about ability to meet basic needs, about struggling to get by, about economic security. So we need to have multiple measures.
At the same time, what the administration has done, and has just recently announced, is a plan to begin reporting what will be known as a supplemental measure. So the official measure will stay in place as it is and it affects a lot of things around how federal money is given out, who's eligible for particular programs. None of that will be affected by this. But at the same time, the Census Bureau, starting in 2011, will begin reporting the supplemental measure. It's drawn on work that had been done by the National Academy of Sciences, a lot of research that has gone on since that time to build on and to look more closely at the findings from the National Academy of Science. So it draws on that. It will continue to go through refinements over time because we're always learning and we're always improving the data. But what it will do is allow us to have, along with the official measure, a supplemental one which will provide additional insight to better understand who's poor and to better understand what the effects are of things like healthcare costs and work related costs, tax policy, near cash benefits that make a difference in helping families get by. So it will help us have a better understanding of poverty.
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD: Good job.
CHRISTINA PAXSON: Yeah, very good. Many of you have mentioned just the breadth of Senator Kennedy's legacy for children. I mean, we're talking about education and healthcare and family policy, work policy. And we have seven minutes left. So we're not going to cover it all. But I thought we might talk a little bit about priorities in the field of education. And, Shirley, I was hoping you might talk a little bit about sort of what's right up next? What should our first priority be right now?
SHIRLEY SAGAWA: Well, I think we have the greatest civil rights challenge, as Marian mentioned, is the fact that we have so many young people failing in school through no fault of their own, because they don't have access to a good education. It's absolutely stunning. Senator Kennedy was always willing to kind of look around the bend and look for the things that could work -- to go back against some of the trade associations and interest groups that wanted things to stay the same -- and put children first. And that was his long fight, and it's a fight that I think there's starting to be some traction around, having understanding that we do need to hold schools accountable in some way for the success of their students, and hold teachers accountable. And to look for those things that are going to teach us the way -- the charter schools and the choice.
One of the first hearings I ever worked on back in the 1980s, I think it was 1987, was a hearing on innovations in education which looked at things like school choice and whether or not there was room for that in the public school system.
And the fact that Senator Kennedy was willing to be out there on that topic many decades ago -- and here we are still struggling with what do we do when some kids are in schools that are failing -- is ridiculous.
I've been working a lot with social entrepreneurs. And one of the great marriages between Senator Kennedy's sort of forward thinking and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is that many social entrepreneurs have their start here in this state. And so toward the end of his career, had a chance to work with him on things like how do you take the Citizens School's model and take it much larger? How do you take City Year that brings people together across boundaries and puts them to work in schools? How do you take that to scale through Serve America?
Many people in Washington often say, we have all the solutions out there, we just don't have the mind to take them to scale where they're needed. And that's the lesson in education -- as it is with all of these programs -- we need the safety net we've been talking about desperately. It's just wrong to have people who are hungry and can't get healthcare. But that alone doesn't take them upward through the system. And these kinds of programs that put an engaged learner in a school, in a system that supports them, with a good teacher in a classroom, this is not rocket science. We know how to do this. We just don't have the public will. And
I think Massachusetts does, and I think that you always led the way because Senator Kennedy looked to Massachusetts for models. And we need to keep doing that. It's never good enough.
He was always willing to say, “You know, that program, I worked on 20 years ago. And you know what? It didn't work out so well.” And we need to be able to say that about our government programs. “That one didn't work out so well, let's make it better.” Because you can always make it better. [applause]
CHRISTINA PAXSON: Thank you. Senator Dodd, I know that you have been very involved in education issues, too. And, in fact, just this past Wednesday an example of bipartisanship you introduced with Nevada Republican John Ensign, the Improving 21st Century Community Learning Centers Act of 2010, which would expand after school programs. And I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about that?
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, again, it's one of those examples, again, of reaching across lines and trying to bring people in that you don't always necessarily agree with, in fact rarely agree with in some cases. I've never argued why people are willing to support you on issues, I got over that problem early on. I remember on a side issue, years ago I was working on the embargo issue in Cuba. And I was trying to find a partner on the other side that might help me on that issue. And I ended up with John Ashcroft from Missouri. People say, “How‟d you end up with John Ashcroft?” Well, John Ashcroft cared about rice farmers in southern Missouri, and he wanted them to sell rice in Cuba. That's a good enough reason for me; we joined on the issue together. I didn't argue about why. [laughter]
It's something that Marian said earlier that really deserves being repeated because it's something that's been missing, I think, in the debate about child poverty and this issue. And that is what Marian has always brought to the table, and that is the holistic version of this. If I got any lessons from Marian over the years in these proposals, people would somehow tease us, when Marian would come with a bill that had 85 titles to it, at least, and would be easily 20,000 pages long, something like that. I'm exaggerating. And the reason was that she just had all these disparate ideas. If you sat back and looked at what Marian was presenting, it was a holistic version. That's what all Head Start was about; that's why Teddy cared so much about early Head Start. It wasn't about necessarily getting someone to be at the starting blocks in kindergarten or the first grade better off, it was trying to get people even because of where they were coming from, the circumstances they were growing up and the neighborhoods they were in, the availability to the quality of food, nutrition. All of these factors which contribute to whether or not a child is ready to learn.
I have a sister who taught for 41 years in the public school system, helped revive the American Montessori of way teaching back in the Whitby School in Greenwich back in the 1950s, and that whole idea of children -- particularly in her retiring years, she realized that children were coming to school in the inner city of Hartford, where she taught at the Kennelly School, just lacking the ability to communicate with each other because they were being stuck in front of televisions or video games, and lacked the oral skills to be able to communicate. So she was allowing children to talk during the day in school, something all of us in this room were told we absolutely couldn't do in school. But just approaching it differently along the way.
So this particular bill is one version of that, because it not only deals with after school, which is the one period of time that we never paid enough attention to, and going back over the years, I formed an after school caucus. We had different bills on supporting programs, Massachusetts, Connecticut have had light house programs, and the like. That period from two or three o‟clock until roughly six o‟clock, is a devastating period. In fact, people used to tell me -- probably not true today -- that if you tried in a rural community to actually make a telephone call after 3:00, there was always a delay between the time you dialed the last digit and actually clicked in, because in that community so many parents were calling home to make sure their children had arrived safely in that half an hour period.
And so it's when they're victimized, it's when they victimize other people, all the terrible things that can happen. So we're trying to build that in. But it really is one piece of it, Chris. And so we try to build these blocks along the way to get this done, and that's one piece of it. We even included things like obesity. I love what Michelle Obama is doing on obesity. Tom Harkin, who now chairs Teddy's committee, the Health and Education Labor Committee, the other day on the obesity issues, how can we deal with it? How do we fit that in? How do we get things like food stamps, how do we get school nutrition programs, all of these other things which contribute to a child's ability to learn, all of those factors contribute to their economic opportunities. Again, it's the holistic version of this that we're trying to pull together in the various pieces. And this is one factor, an important piece of this, I'd add as well.
CHRISTINA PAXSON: Thanks. So, I'm going to ask one more question and then I'll open up the floor. So if you have questions to ask, you might start thinking about them right now. But, Marian, maybe you can wrap up a little bit and tell us what your most important building blocks are right now?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Oh, I'm glad to. The first thing, with Senator Dodd's leadership, the first thing we've got to do is to make sure our children are not born with three or four strikes against them and have the basic right to healthcare. We need to get the healthcare bill done now. [applause] And we all have talked about bipartisanship and everybody's been, you know, reaching out and talking about the need for bipartisan, and Hatch/Kennedy, Hatch/Dodd, and that's really wonderful. But you can't let bipartisanism hijack what needs to be done at the moment. So just get the bill passed, that's the first thing. Let's support them.
The second, because the health thing is so basic and we're having hundreds of thousands of babies born every year with three, four and five strikes against them. They never get on a track to healthy adulthood. We got to have an early learning care and system. We got to get them ready for school. And this budget of the President, we've got the best budget for children and the poor that I can remember us ever having. We need to focus on it; we need to get that early learning fund through; we need to get the home visiting money through; we need to get the expanded childcare, Head Start, which is all there. But we need to put into place a high quality, comprehensive, early childhood system, which you've been working on. He's been wonderful. But we've got an opportunity to put that together.
We've got to use this Recovery Act money in ways to foster innovative partnerships at the community level to deal with children from zero to six. Good policies, just being good parenting, it's like good parenting, the common sense building blocks of it that contend with care. But we've got the opportunity to make some real strides for it in early childhood development.
Then we've got to get through a really good elementary and secondary education act. We need to have accountability built in, we need to get bad teachers out of classrooms, get good teachers in the classroom, good educational leadership. And we know how to do that, so this is a real opportunity. And we need to make the formula one that's going to be fair to poor children. So we've got the ESEA, reauthorization this year, let's do it right. We've got strong leadership. You got to get this done before you leave, so we've just got to get this done.
And children are in school only 17, 18 percent of their day, of their time. That's why your after school programs, your summer learning programs … We know how to run first rate programs to keep them from staunching … you know, having summer learning laws. We need to talk about after school, summer enrichment.
We need to talk about jobs, jobs, jobs, and good jobs for people. We need to talk about expanding the earned income tax credit. The President wants to make them permanent. The child tax credit, again we know what to do to supplement it and make work pay. And the opportunities are there in the budget to make some real strides forward.
If we go ahead and do that … But we have also got to pay attention to the disconnect with young people. There are young people growing up without any work experience, without any summer jobs, without any way of beginning to see that there's a different future. And so we need to be plugging in something for disconnected youth for work.
And so I think we've got some opportunities. This is a really important time, and we shouldn't be sitting here saying, “Why doesn't Congress do, why doesn't the President do?” The pieces have been laid out for their … Why don't we get our voices together and build the kind of noise that the other side has built to make these things happen? We know what to do.
And I just wanted to ask, because I saw this astonishing figure in Jason DeParle's piece. When Senator Kennedy went down to Mississippi in 1967 and we took him through houses, he saw sharecroppers who had no income and who could not afford the money for food stamps. And Orville Freedman did not believe, when Robert Kennedy came back, that there were people in the United States of America with no income. And so he sent, happily my husband, my now-husband, back down to retrace the steps to show them.
Jason DeParle's piece -- if I'm remembering, because I still can't quite believe it; I've been waiting to call you to ask you -- he said in this piece that one in fifty Americans have no cash income today – this was in the New York Times -- and that they were relying on in kind programs like food stamps or SNAP (I still call it food stamps), and the other kind of subsidies to housing and others. But is that possible that one in fifty Americans today would have no cash income? I read it four times. Is that possible?
And one of the things we need to say is it could always happen to us. None of us thought many people who are now in food stamp lines would ever have thought they would be in food stamp lines. People who are now in risk of homeless shelters who never thought it could happen to them. And so I just hope that we can use this moment of need as a way of trying to say we need to make sure that this country is going to take care of people when they come across difficulties.
But is that possible? Did you see that Jason DeParle piece?
MARK GREENBERG: If I could, actually, let me comment on a couple of things that Marian said. And I will come back to the point that you finished with. So the first as we seek to move ahead, one of the things the administration is very strongly focused on is the crucial importance of early education. And in the Recovery Act last year, there was additional funding provided then -- both for Head Start and for childcare in the budget -- that has been put forward now. The administration proposes to sustain that funding for Head Start, is also proposing an additional $1.6 billion for childcare assistance.
At the same time that we're focused on the resource aspect of it, we are also very concerned about how to improve the quality of both Head Start and childcare and placing, in a whole range of ways, a strong emphasis on both, and at the same time the importance of trying to bring together what are sometimes disparate efforts around childcare and Head Start and other early childhood programs and state pre-kindergarten efforts. And trying to encourage the development of a much more coordinated approach to early childhood care and education and child well being. So we are at HHS, we're working very closely with the Department of Education around it. It is something that the President feels very strongly about.
And we hope to make great strides on early childhood education.
On the issue of people without income, it is one of the things which the President is emphasizing repeatedly, and which I would underscore today, is the devastating effects of high unemployment to this country and the need for a job strategy which the administration is actively working with Congress and others to try to advance towards addressing the unemployment situation that we currently face, recognizing the impact that that has both on individuals and on communities. So one piece of what clearly needs to happen is addressing a much stronger approach around jobs.
At the same time, one of the things that the New York Times article that Marian is referring to highlighted is the number of families, including families with children, who were receiving SNAP benefits -- what food stamps are now called -- and did not have other sources of income. This is a significant concern. It's something we want to better understand. It's an area where we want to insure that the programs that are in place are responsive to families so that help can be provided to those who need it.
CHRISTINA PAXSON: Thank you. So I would like to open the floor to questions. And there are microphones here and here, and I think there will be a large number of questions. So I'd really like to encourage you to ask a question and keep it relatively brief. So should we start on this side of the room?
QUESTION: I'll keep the comment extremely brief. I think we all understand the multiple connections between the healthcare legislation and child poverty and poverty in general. I'm asking you to suppose or pretend -- and Mr. Greenberg, you don't have to pretend, and Senator Dodd, I think you probably don‟t, either -- I'm asking you to pretend that you are the policy and political advisors to President Obama right now. And you're meeting with him over a beer or tea -- depending on where you're sitting in the White House area -- and you're giving him advice as to what he can do now to get that healthcare bill, or the bills, the Senate and House bills through. What advice would you give him? And I understand there's a value to working with the other party, but it just seems to many people today that the other party doesn't want him to succeed. They want him to lose this issue and other issues, so that they can win the presidency in 2012. What advice would you give him, given the political realities, about what he should do, even if it includes twisting arms and capping knees, to get it to happen?
CHRISTINA PAXSON: Senator Dodd, I want to hear what you have to say about that?
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD: I like the twisting arms, capping knees part of the deal. [laughter] Well, believe it, I'm feeling more optimistic that we're going to get the bill done. I don't know where the gentleman went who was standing …
QUESTION: Right here.
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD: There you are. In fact, Marian and I and Shirley and Mark were talking about this before we walked on the stage. And I've always said I haven't done any polling data. I think the question is more whether or not the votes will be in the House at this point, as you realize. And again, without boring you with all the discussion of reconciliation and the like -- and I'm mindful that this process of reconciliation is a budget process, it's one that's been around; it should be used sparingly -- but I happen to believe the issue is so much more important than a process question at this point that we cannot miss this opportunity to get this done. And I don't know the vote counts in the House. Just my sense is that people have begun to realize what we‟d lose if we don't get this done. And that's not to suggest that you'd all agree with every dotted i and crossed t in this, but the idea that the average family in this country is going to be paying $2,000 a month in about seven years for premiums, or that you're going to see even further erosions, or that every state in this country in the next seven years, will have an increase of 10 percent of the uninsured in their states, and 30 states will have a 30 percent increase in the uninsured … And if you wonder whether or not that should worry you at all, just consider the following: that you're paying on the average somewhere around $1,100 or $1,200 a month to pay for the uncompensated care. Those families that I saw last night at one in the morning in the emergency room at the Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C., who are showing up not because it was in early stage, they had gone to the last minute and had no other choice but to be there. That care's not for free.
I mean, there are a lot of issues that are surrounding this question. So I think the President needs to be doing what I believe they're doing, and that is being on the phone, calling people who are wavering, wondering whether or not they ought to be voting for this. I believe in the Senate, the 59 people who were there who are Democrats, and possibly, who knows, the new Senator from Massachusetts, one never knows here, might actually cast a vote where 51 votes would be needed, not 60, to get the bill adopted through that process, a majority of the Senate to move forward.
So I think the President's on the right track and the administration is doing the things they need to get done. A lot of it's in Nancy Pelosi's hands in the leadership of the House to round up the votes to produce the majority vote there. Without the Senate passed bill being adopted, obviously the Senate action can't move, and that has to happen first. Not because she‟d like it to be that way, it's just procedurally how it has to happen in order to get to the President's desk.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: I think it's very important for us to ask what we can do. We've got to find those 35 to 40 House members who may be wavering.
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, Marian, there's no constitutional prohibition against you writing, emailing members of Congress from other states.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Absolutely. We need to find out whom to target. We just need to make sure that our representatives are going to be on the right side of this. And we can't do it without them.
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD: And understand this, again, it's a hugely complex set of issues. And if it were easy, there are very few applause lines in the sense immediately in all of this, and they're not going to get a ticker tape parade necessarily right away from all of this. But for this country to once again squander the opportunity that has defied almost every administration and every Congress for 80 years, in fact further than that. You go back to the days of Teddy
Roosevelt. And the problem does not get easier to solve. It doesn't become less costly of a way to address the issue, to move us in a different direction where, again, the basic notion … I mean, you have to begin asking yourself the following question: Do you believe that healthcare is a right or a privilege? I happen to think it ought to be a right in the United States, ought not to be a privilege. [applause] And we need to figure out how to do it. So people can write, can call, can talk, can utilize all sorts of vehicles available today that make access so much more available than it was even a few years ago. So I underscore Marian's point.
CHRISTINA PAXSON: Why don't we take the one question over here, and then we'll come back to the other side.
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD: There seems to be an uneven balance between the sides of the room here.
CHRISTINA PAXSON: Exactly.
QUESTION: We lean towards the left. [laughter]
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD: It all depends on your perspective. It looks like the right up here to me. [laughter]
QUESTION: Thank you very much. I appreciate each of the panelists and the moderator. I did a little Bingo game for myself to see whether my favorite topics were mentioned: parents and parenting. And Senator Dodd, Mrs. Edelman and Mr. Greenberg were the only ones who mentioned parents. Lot of hits on childcare, I'm all in favor of children and childcare. And the mention of prisons is good. I've done some parenting education programs in prisons. But I'd like to hear anyone speak on how parenting and parenting education programs, parent support, fit into the whole picture? Thank you. [applause]
MARK GREENBERG: So, of course, one aspect of it that's quite crucial as part of the Head Start efforts, another aspect that I'd particularly want to highlight, is the role of home visiting, particularly for parents of very young children. As you may be aware, one of the administration's proposed initiatives is to put in place a home visiting framework that draws upon a lot of research that's been done about the most effective kinds of home visiting programs, at the same time spurs some additional expansion of these efforts around the country and increases our understanding about what are the most effective ways in which home visiting can occur. And we are very hopeful about the potentials that that could have.
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD: I might just add on that point, too, and I totally agree with Mark's point on the home visiting, how you do that, achieve that. But it's fascinating to me, Head Start programs require -- and Marian or Shirley will correct me if I misspeak here -- I think on the Head Start programs, there's a requirement of parental involvement. And you get about 80 percent parental involvement nationwide, those numbers are fairly consistent, of parental involvement. By the time you get to first grade in the same schools, that parental involvement drops to less than 20 percent. So it's not a long time. I mean, basically for a year or so you watch this significant involvement go to very little involvement.
Again, I know there's some tension, obviously, always between teachers and having parents come. I just think it's one of the most important points. So many times these parents themselves have dropped out of school. They find that environment a frightening and hostile environment, and they've got to change that because that child ready to learn, that child getting that support at home, all of that kind of guidance that can come. If you had to pick out one thing, if you said I could only change one thing -- the one the woman just mentioned -- that's the one thing that I think would make a huge difference. If you could close that gap of parental involvement in education, where they were far more aware and conscious of what's going on and then becoming a part of that process. To me, it's critical.
CHRISTINA PAXSON: Thanks.
QUESTION: Good evening. My name is Steve Goode, and I'm a teacher here in Boston. And I teach at the John D. O‟Brien School of Mathematics and Science. I teach AP government and politics -- up your field -- and U.S. history. And I'm glad that the other person spoke about parents. Because the question that I had for you, and Mrs. Edelman, but I think all can join in, parents are my bosses and I also heard -- I didn't play Bingo -- but I did hear you say bad teachers. Well, I'm not a bad teacher. I work very hard at what I do. But again, we're being lumped. It's hard to have a bad teacher unless you have bad administrators. [applause]
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: I thought I said both.
QUESTION: I can honestly say that Boston has some excellent administrators as far as superintendents. Superintendent Johnson's here.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: She's here.
QUESTION: So my question, here's my question for you. Hypothetical, no I'm not the politician, but I've read a few books about it. Here's my question. You're retiring so you have some leverage here; you've lost a lot of luggage, you don't have to worry about it, you're retiring. But you have young children. How can you help Dr. Johnson here in Boston? D.C. I understand their school system needs help, urban systems across the country, how can you work with superintendents across the country without beating up teachers, but giving the superintendents the resources, which is money that they need to do their jobs to serve the public?
Because you mentioned, you can write your congressman, you can call them, you can talk. You can't call them if you don't have money to pay for a phone. You can't write them if you don't have the skill set. And you said it best. There's this animosity between that parent and schools because maybe they didn't have that successful school year. So then you're expecting their kids to be there when we're saying how do you help kids if they're poor? But in order to be a poor kid, you have to have poor parents. So if I could choose parents, maybe Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey. I keep my parents on the side, buy a small island, maybe Australia. So help me here with that. What can you do now that you're retiring to help superintendents across the nation, not just here in Boston?
CHRISTINA PAXSON: I think we have the question.
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD: I haven't figured out what I'm going to do when I retire. I got a five year old and an eight year old I got to worry about doing these things, and I'll sort that out at some point over the coming year. But, look, all of us have our different epiphanies in life on these issues. And I grew up in a large family. That sister I told you about who is a teacher, was blind from birth, remarkable woman. And watched my parents, who were of upper middle income means in the 1940s and „50s be able to take care of her. In other economic circumstances, she would have been relegated to piecemeal work someplace, regardless of what her intelligence and abilities were, as it turned out, to be a remarkable teacher despite her visual disability.
And I got excited when I graduated from college about something called the Peace Corps and went off and served in the Dominican Republic on the Haitian border for two years and had a life altering experience, because otherwise growing up in the 1950s in relatively segregated, even in the northeast, communities where our knowledge and awareness … We always talk about the south, but the reality is in the northeast, in the Massachusetts and the Connecticuts, our awareness and knowledge of what was going on even within our own vision was limited. And that was a huge difference.
So whatever I'm going to do, I'm going to find out some way to sustain that involvement in public life. And education, I think, is critically important. But I haven't figured out specifically what it is. But education would be a nice area to think about and I appreciate your raising it.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Can I just very quickly say, we need to get bad teachers out of the classroom. We do need to get bad teachers and bad administrators and bad people who work with children. Parents are the most important group of folk, parents supporting parents, to raise good children. But parents need help, and parents need support, and parents can't do it alone, particularly when we've got so many single parents and young families. But we need to empower parents and we need to support parents, and we need to deal with the realities of who parents are in our school hours and when we have parent/teacher conferences. And there are many things we can do.
I think the teachers and the educators are the second most important people in this society in terms of the amount of time, and I think in a good society that's serious about citizenship and about the future, that you would want to make sure you paid your teachers more than you pay a lot of your other folk. And we need to lift their status. I have a son who's a teacher and who's been a principal and who's now working for the D.C. public schools, and a second son who's also spending full time on public education. So I think it's the most important things, and they've got graduate degrees, Ph.D.s and Masters degrees. My younger son, who has no graduate degree and is working for HBO, makes more money than his older brothers.
And so our value system needs to change. We need to improve the status of those who work with children and shape the future and really get the best people into teaching, and send some of the weaker people off to the corporations or whatever. But the point is we need the key. We know how to educate. We should just have the best possible people in our schools at all levels, at the administrative level, at principal. You've got wonderful Carol Johnson who's here, and she's making a difference in the Boston public schools. But we need to have everybody encouraged to go into teaching because that is the civil rights challenge over the next decades. And so I didn't mean to paint everybody, I'm just saying everybody in the classroom should be good. A good teacher in a child's life is the key ingredient of whether they're going to succeed in many ways. And a bad teacher can do irreparable damage. And I go around saying, “Let's get more people to go into teaching. But if you don't love children, you don't expect children to learn, you don't respect all children, please go do something else. It's too important.” So did not mean to give that brush, but we value what you do.
QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, I ask a question really as a journalist who covered children and family issues for a number of years and think of myself as someone who reads quite a lot and pays attention to these issues. And until I came here this afternoon, I wasn't aware, as Marian made me most aware, that this budget looks like a good one for children, and of all the pieces that were part of it. I've worked on early education issues. So my question, as a journalist, is that with fewer and fewer resources at newspapers and broadcast outlets today, with fewer and fewer people covering children and family issues and bringing messages out, and with less and less prominence of both the word children and the word poverty coming from anyone in this administration or anyone that I know of in Congress today, and putting it out there, short of cloning Marian Wright Edelman and sending her around 360 days a year to deliver messages like this, I'm curious how all of you think that the message … Because you talked about the voice, Marian; you talked about the voice needing to come from here, from this room. But how does the information get to the people who really have to become the voice and share the passion that you have? As a journalist, I'm quite concerned that the journalistic community may not be able to carry this load. And I'm wondering how you see, in this fragmented media environment that we have today, how these messages come forward and inspire people to be where you are on this stage? Thank you.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: It's so hard to get out the message on children. And it's so hard to get out good news about children. It's so hard to talk about all the good practices that are out there. We know a lot, and there are wonderful people doing wonderful things. We just need to move them to scale and insure consistent quality. The media isn't interested. If I wanted to attack the President, if I wanted to attack somebody, if I wanted to be negative … I mean, it's so hard, it's been frustrating in the health debate to say, “Hey, we got to make sure the children get their fair share, are we protecting them?” Nobody cares about … I mean, it's just very difficult.
The fragmented media is a big issue. And during the civil rights days, as John Dorr will know, we had three networks. You could see the same police dogs; you could see the same fire hoses; you could see the same kind of issues. You could frame an issue, and you had a core of really intelligent, seasoned civil rights reporters who knew the actors. My goodness, it's a ten second media culture today. Nobody wants to deal with anything that's not entertainment or that's not gore. So it's a huge problem, Melissa. And I hope you all are going to figure this out at the Shorenstein School and figure out how we do it, because it is one of the biggest … But Shirley, if you've got an answer?
SHIRLEY SAGAWA: I have thought about this, because I totally agree, and Marian's been doing this for so long and I've learned so much from her. But we can't clone you. It's bad because everybody's looking for somebody who agrees with them, right? So you're going to read that blogger who's going to repeat back everything you agree with and you're not necessarily going to spread it.
The good news is with so many ways to get messages out now, we can hear from the people themselves in communities, instead of having to wait for some reporter to go and interpret their story. And I think we're in a transitional phase now where we have to take advantage of the fact that we can now hear from somebody who is in a bombing area of Afghanistan who has a cell phone. We can now hear from the people themselves and communities who are affected. We can hear from children, we can hear their voices. So as we go through this great transition where the establishment interpreters told us what to think and now we are all interpreters …
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD: In fact, what you've described is deeper than you could imagine. And just as an anecdotal experience, my little state of Connecticut, ten years ago, fifteen years ago, had 11 reporters covering the Connecticut delegation. Today, I don't have one. Not a single reporter from a single media outlet in my state that covers the seven of us who represent the state of Connecticut in the Congress of the United States. I was one of 35 or 40 people at the Blair House a week or two ago with President Obama for seven hours, listening to this -- whatever you want to call -- the thing on healthcare that we went through. And not a single story in my Connecticut papers that one of their members was there. What did I say, what did I think, what were my views, what happened, and so forth?
So this disconnect, in a sense, is today you have your network of choice where you can go and just confirm your own views on things. So we're not asked to be deliberate at all in our functioning process. I hope Shirley's right, that this is a transition period and we're going to find some alternatives, but the disconnect is huge. And I can just tell you, I worry deeply about it. I'm not worried about institutions that are going through rough patches, and so forth. There's nothing new historically about that. What is new is people's ability to have access to information that allows them to form their own opinions where today, we're being told what to think. I'm worried about what that's going to produce for us.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: We're trying to use more of the social media. We're trying all these new things. But there is such a glut of information. I mean, there's just so much. You just turn it off and again with people who don't have time, how do you discern between the good and the bad? There's so much junk out there. I couldn't believe the first time I began to look at something, I said, “Do people spend time doing this?” And so we've got to figure out, Melissa. This is a very big issue, about how do you get an intelligent and informed citizenry and how do we get accurate information so that they can hold people accountable for the decisions they've made.
CHRISTINA PAXSON: Go ahead, please.
QUESTION: My question is what we are going to do with elementary education. I hear so often we're going to have more charter schools. What happens to those children who don't make it into the charter school? What are we going to do? I'm against charter schools for that reason.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: We have got to have good schools, good charters, good public schools, whoever is in there to educate. I am a very strong proponent of the public education system. That's why we‟ve got to upgrade our teachers; we've got to give them the resources that they need; we've got to encourage more and more good people to go into teaching, and I think that's happening in Teach for America. But there's no one answer. We have got to just make sure that we understand that every child has a right to get an education.
If you can't read and write in this economy, you're being sentenced to social and economic death, and our country is being sentenced to second class status in this competitive world. And so we've got to change our values. There's a fundamental new paradigm shift, and right now you pay those -- whether it's the pediatrician, those who work with children -- are always the least valued in society. And we've somehow got to change the paradigm of what is important to us as human beings and as Americans. And I think we're all put on this earth to make the future better and to leave the next generation better off than we've done. But we are breaking that contract and we have got to come to grips with that.
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD: Marian, I'm a believer in public education to the point where both of my daughters, five and eight years old, are in public schools. I believe you ought to try and stick with that system and make it work. And they're great public schools, and we don't celebrate them enough.
Every year in Washington, D.C., they're great public schools. The stories are always about how the public school system in Washington, D.C. doesn't work. That's not true. There are, like in any community, there are schools that are not functioning. But there are ones that are terrific. My eight year old goes to a school where there are 34 different languages spoken. Kathleen Sheehy, her first grade teacher, was teacher of the year in the District of Columbia last year. There's a remarkable environment going on in that school. And where my five year old is in a preschool program, are great programs. No one ever reports about what happens in the Peabody School or the Hyde School. But they're great schools with great teachers and a remarkable principal that works at it. No one's going to know it. It's too bad, it's working.
CHRISTINA PAXSON: We have time for one more question. I'm sorry for those of you who are standing, but there we go.
QUESTION: Thank you. First, I can't be at this mic without thanking Marian Wright Edelman for her lifetime of inspiration, of courage, of commitment. I'm going to try to be succinct at the risk of being blunt here with sort of two pieces to this. One is that there are at least three issues that I didn't hear addressed this afternoon, which I'm wondering whether anybody thinks they have any impact on kids living in poverty. I'll name them, and then I'll save my second piece to it. The growing economic divide between the very, very, very richest and all the rest of us. The fact that we're fighting two wars and spending billions of dollars on that. And the Supreme Court just having ruled that corporations are people. So I'm wondering whether those relate to our issue of eliminating child poverty.
And tied in with that, and especially for Miss Wright Edelman, but I think for all of you, you Miss Wright Edelman, were part of a movement that involved resisting illegitimate authority, disrupting business as usual, putting economic pressure and boycotts on how can … Does that relate to how we make the progress? And if so, how do we get that going? I know those were big questions, but then again, I'm the last person to get to ask, so I'll throw it all out there.
CHRISTINA PAXSON: Thank you.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: The gap between rich and poor is at the highest ever recorded. It's the top 1 percent has walked off with the wealth over the last part of the nation, and the poor have been getting poorer. And it's disgraceful. Again, it's about a paradigm shift in our country. We could end child poverty tomorrow for what we have been spending on the war in Iraq and
Afghanistan. We could end child poverty tomorrow if we really did freeze the tax cuts or let them expire, you know, for the top crowd, 2 percent, we could give that money to children and educate them.
It's not an issue of money; it's an issue of priorities. We have really enriched the rich at the expense of the poor. And 2 ½ million poor children in the last couple of years, that's before the new data that hasn't come out before the depression. And so, of course, we've seen the industrialization of our economy. You've seen this growing set of tax breaks for the people who need it the least at the expense of those who need it most. It is at the bottom. It is about what we're valuing. So we need to reorder our national priorities.
I am a child of Howard Zinn, who has recently passed, and I think that this is the 50th anniversary of the sit ins, the first time I ever went to jail. We've got to find a new way of getting attention about what has happened to us. And we've got to reorder our priorities. We've got to reset our moral compass. And that's not going to happen without a movement, and the Tea Party is not that movement. We have got to be that movement. And we've got to talk about who we are as Americans in a world that is already two-thirds nonwhite and poor. But what an opportunity this is. And we've done a miraculous thing here with the election of the first African- American President, and he has a great opportunity and chance to succeed. But it takes a movement from those of us on the outside to help that. It has to be a partnership.
And so we've got to find new public theaters, we've got to take new risks. You can't get over this huge class and racial divide, because racial disparities are still rife in our society. And that's what's driving the prison pipeline -- it's poverty, and basic skills level, and race. You can't do that in incremental steps anymore. I think we've got to take a big jump. But I think that we've got to think about how we catalyze a social movement. It's much more complex today. This is not the „60s, but we've got to figure out what the ingredients of the next movement, to finish the job that Dr. King and Robert Kennedy and others started, in the context of the 21st century because we've got to have a movement to put the social and economic underpinnings beneath the political and civil rights. And that's what this is all about, that's what children are about. And we figure the children are the best metaphor for trying to do what Dr. King was trying to do -- build a cross- racial movement to deal with the economic inequalities. And he talked about the three big “isms” -- militarism, materialism, and poverty.
And so we have got to address these fundamental needs to reorder priorities. And so that's the challenge before us. Or else we're going to go backwards. And so this is a very important time, a very difficult time. But we've got to go forward and not backwards. And so I think that we've got some hard things to do; we've got some hard work to do. But it's going to take a level of citizen activism and we've got to involve young people, and they're ready. We have trained 15, 20 thousand young people down at Alex Haley Farm for this next movement. And they're going to step up to the plate, so we're going to have that movement. The only issue is when and how, but we've got to have it if our country is going to be salvaged, in my view. So thank you for that question.
SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD: Let me try and bring this all the way around because we're gathered here to talk about Ted Kennedy and his legacy. In a sense, I've tried to think if he were sitting in this chair today, and Lord knows I wish he were, believe me, on so many occasions, I think he‟d pick up on these themes. And he did in his life. And there's a sense of marrying what he did so effectively, and that is his sense of idealism and purpose, and also the ability to get things done. I don't know how many times I heard him say to me, sitting next to him in those committee hearings, “We're not always going to get everything we want, but let's get as much as we can.”
And you go back historically on some of the great social movements and successes of our nation in the 20th century, did not occur just in one year. They began progressively. The Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act did not just happen in 1964 and ‟65; they began decades earlier. And they were people who fought great fights, did not achieve everything they wanted, but they moved along the process. And we need to keep in mind -- whether you're a local activist, whether you're a teacher, a superintendent of schools, whatever your calling in life is -- if we can walk away, all of us, regardless of what we do, to marry those principles of being determined about what we believe in and pragmatic enough to know how to get it moving along. We only get a second of time, you and I, in this process. We're here just so briefly and to take advantage of the time we've been given to make that difference.
And that's what Teddy did for 47 years in the United States Senate. He never missed an opportunity to move the process along. And that's why we're here, and I thank you.
QUESTION: May I ask a question? I know this is over, but it actually incorporates a lot what has been said, and it's directed towards Ms. Edelman. You said things today at the beginning that addressed these issues to people's self interest. And I don't hear anybody doing that in the debate. People are being convinced that their self interests go to not paying taxes, instead of not educating people who are going to be taking care of them later on. And I'm asking you, in particular, if you can be someplace where a media event can be covering you all the time. And I say that only because you've said it so clearly and beautifully, so thank you.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Everybody's got to say it. We've been a broken record for the last 40 years. We're saying the same thing year after year after year after year. And after a point, it takes you 40 years, and then it becomes a new idea. That's what I keep hoping, that somebody will wake up and say, “Oh, I've discovered this new thing.” But go to our website, because we're just about to put out a State of Children 2010 in America, and we'll have all the tradeoffs of how much you can get from the military to do this, and say all the ways in which you can reset. And then you take your speech lessons and you go out there, because it needs a lot of people saying it in lots of forums. And what we can try to do is to inform you.
We have training, and you can get that off of the website. So just look up CDF's website at www.childrensdefense.org. You'll get more information than you need. We're upgrading our website; we're putting out new data. But we're also always saying what you can do, where you can come and get the skills to do it better. But we just need to begin to empower as many people as we can to take this message, because it's what they hear back home that's going to be important. Thank you for that, but we've all got to be joining in. Thank you.
CHRISTINA PAXSON: I'd like to thank the panel, the organizers, and especially all of you for coming out on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. So thank you.