10/11/2012 12:41 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2014

C- Is Just Not Good Enough for Our Kids

A report card marked with too many C's and D's is not something to boast about. Unfortunately, those are just the kinds of grades America brought home yesterday, earning an overall C- in America's Report Card 2012: Children in the U.S., released by Save the Children and First Focus.

While a C- isn't an F, as a grade assigned to our country for the overall well-being of its children, it's far from good enough. That's why, yesterday morning in Washington, D.C., we gathered with Bruce Lesley (President, First Focus), former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) to release the report and to urge America to do better for our kids.

Commissioned by Sens. Dodd and Casey, America's Report Card provides a snapshot of children's needs, assigning grades in five areas:
  • Economic security: D, based on the number of children living in poverty, experiencing food insecurity and unstable housing.
  • Early childhood: C-, based on early learning program availability and enrollment, as well as access to child care.
  • K-12 education: C-, based on children's math, reading and science levels, school resources, the number of at-risk youth, and educational attainment.
  • Permanency and stability: D, based on the well-being of children impacted by the child welfare, juvenile justice, and immigration systems.
  • Health and safety: C+, based on the state of health insurance coverage for children, access to health care and preventive services, public health and safety, and environmental health.

The presidential candidates keep talking about building a more prosperous and more competitive nation -- a much-needed priority, considering the report assigned our country a D on economic security for children -- yet, during the first presidential debate, neither candidate mentioned the poverty epidemic affecting 16 million kids. That's nearly one in four children who know all too well what it means to go without.

Why, then, are children being left out of the conversation during an election season in which the economy is the primary issue?

Children don't have access to the political process the way adults do. They don't appear on cable talk shows, contribute to political action committees, or vote.

We understand the election's emphasis on reducing the deficit, but that is not mutually exclusive from reducing poverty. Research shows that childhood poverty costs our nation $500 billion per year, while a meaningful investment in children's education in the earliest years would add $2 trillion to our gross domestic product within a generation.

Why make this type of investment? Kids living in poverty are 18 months behind developmentally by age four. They're less likely to be reading at grade-level in elementary school. As they get older, they are more likely to drop out of high school and be trapped in the cycle of poverty as adults. As a country, we invest billions in trying to remediate these children but an upfront investment is a much wiser one.

As Lesley put it, "We grade kids all the time. It's time to take responsibility as a nation for the decisions that determine whether kids can succeed. We can't be satisfied with a C-, but raising the grade means getting involved, voting for kids, and holding politicians accountable."

Let's summon the political will to invest in our children. If the candidates are truly serious about building a stronger America, then a meaningful debate about ending childhood poverty must become part of the conversation.

Read the complete report here.