The 114th Congress convenes today, constrained as usual by the conventional wisdom that Americans are frustrated and unwilling to spend their tax dollars for government programs. But such a generalization misses an encouraging yet little noted trend in American politics: voters supporting increased taxing and spending when it is (a) focused on children, (b) in their local community, and (c) in ways that represent an investment in the future with measurable return for all.
An example is last November’s ballot question in Seattle where residents voted to tax themselves to fund a $58 million pilot program to make pre-school available for low-income families. http://tinyurl.com/mab2rzw According to the Seattle Times, the Proposition 1B levy will cost a Seattle resident with a home valued at $400,000 about $43 a year.
It was estimated that a dollar spent could yield as much as $17 dollars’ worth of return in the form of higher graduation rates, lower crime, more job creation and less welfare. Communities in Florida, Texas, and elsewhere have taken similar steps to support children through investments in early education.
The bipartisan support we’ve seen among governors for our No Kid Hungry campaign fits with this trend toward local support for children’s most fundamental needs. Our work is an opportunity to create a new positive narrative American politics so desperately needs
The issue is not whether there is political will for investing in the future; it is what form such investments must take to gain the political will needed. When those investments are focused on kids, in one’s own community, with results that can be seen and measured and will ultimately benefit everyone through better educational outcomes and economic competitiveness, then partisanship dissipates and political support grows.
This small oasis of bipartisan productivity at the local level may be America’s most fertile ground for reversing the plunging confidence in government, due to partisanship, political paralysis, and the role of money in elections. If we can effectively serve those who are most vulnerable and the least responsible for the situation in which they find themselves – America’s children – we have a shot at restoring that once taken-for-granted key ingredient of the American dream - that the next generation will be better off than our own.
We must give the new Congress a chance and see what it can do. But if the reconvening of vast numbers of Congressional incumbents, dependent on PAC funding and committed to the status quo turns out to be less than inspiring, perhaps we should convene some of the local leaders who against all odds have achieved breakthroughs in their communities on behalf of Americans most voiceless kids.