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Opinion | If children could vote

Alabama must place more emphasis on our children’s needs and be sure they are met. Our future literally depends on it.

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If children in Alabama could vote, perhaps their voices would be heard. Maybe they could get the attention of our state’s leaders in all 67 counties. Just maybe they would have a better report than the state recently received — 46th overall in the well-being of our children. That’s according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2022 KIDS COUNT Data Book.

If they could vote, our children would choose officials who would better represent their needs, and maybe they could even hire a lobbyist or two to represent their best interests.

The annual report considers 16 indicators including community and family; economic factors; education; and health. Alabama improved in 10 of the indicators but fell behind all others states in four of them. The three states behind us were Louisiana, Mississippi and Nevada. (I guess all their gambling dollars are not going toward improving their children’s well-being either since all three of those states have legalized gaming.)

Alabama’s highest rankings were in the 8% of students not completing graduation on time. Also, the 3 percent of children without health insurance.

The worst-rankings were: the percentage of students in fourth grade who were deficient in reading — an astonishing 72 percent; the percentage of babies with low-birth weights —10.8 percent; and our eighth graders — 70 percent who were deficient in math. 

Nationally speaking, children are facing increased anxiety and depression at enormous levels due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. Alabama’s children are no exception to that rule.

There is good news in that the Alabama Legislature approved placing a mental health coordinator in every school district in the state. That’s a good start. But is it enough?

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The Legislature also passed a bill to focus more on math in kindergarten through fifth grade. So there have been efforts, but are they enough? Would there be more if children could vote? Probably so.

Since they can’t, I say we advocate for them and consider our vote to be their votes in the future. 

Alabama must place more emphasis on our children’s needs and be sure they are met. Our future literally depends on it.

We tend to invest time and money on the back end of things when our children fail instead of investing at the front end to help them succeed. This must change. Until then, I’ll continue to ponder, what if children could vote?

Beth Chapman is the former Alabama state auditor and 51st secretary of state. She now owns and operates Beth Chapman & Associates LLC. She can be reached at [email protected].

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