California’s record drought is driving a lot of change with public alarm matching the rising temperature. According to a recent poll, a record 94 percent of Californians “believe that the drought is serious, and one-third support mandatory rationing.”
The drought is an environmental, economic and community disaster that will likely last a long time. A recent NASA article suggests that the “mega drought could last up to 30 to 40 years.”
This new reality is already pitting urban areas against rural communities. Soon, the drought and its aftermath could have the insidious impact of shifting attention (and ultimately resources) away from an already under-served community in California: low-income children.
From economists to educators to neuroscientists to business leaders, there is clear consensus that addressing children’s health and developmental needs from birth onward is crucial to their future success.
For the past 17 years, California’s 58 county First 5 commissions have embraced an integrated approach to addressing young children’s needs that has returned untold benefits to the Golden State.
Since much of those services is funded exclusively by declining tobacco tax revenue, how will California ensure that the model systems of care that the First 5’s have built will continue to help young children thrive amid the competing budget priorities presented by the drought?
California’s K-12 coalition is perpetually battling to restore funding so that California’s students aren’t lagging behind most of the nation in per pupil funding. It’s appalling that the world’s eighth largest economy hasn’t found a reliable, steady, and equitable replacement for the property taxes that used to fund California schools. Instead, K-12 relies on the “boom or bust” California budget. Even in the pre-drought crisis times, schools often fell behind other state priorities.
How will California’s children fare at the ballot box and in the general budget when the full repercussions of the drought hit California’s economy?
A recent poll, indicating that 52 percent of voters support an increase in support for education, offers a glimmer of hope. But will they still feel the same way when their water bill skyrockets, food prices spike, and the relentless headlines continue of starving sea lions, melting snow caps and raging forest fires?
California has the most advanced environmental laws in the world, and if you ask most people why they live in California, they’ll tell you about the stunning natural beauty of the state. As we face the new reality of a state in permanent environmental crisis, the coalition that fights on behalf of kids will have to rally fretful Californians that there are many kids who matter too.
Luckily, the advocacy organizations that drive the children’s agenda here in California are seasoned at battling the “drought” of resources that have too long plagued our children. Let’s reflect on how the organizations that lead the children’s agenda — including the First 5 Association, California Parent Teacher Association, California Partnership for Children and Youth, Early Edge California, Children Now, Advancement Project, and Children’s Council of San Francisco — can be more aligned, strategic and loud so California doesn’t throw the proverbial baby out with the lack of water.
Pat Reilly is the founder of PR & Company,a full service communications strategy firm for social entrepreneurs, nonprofits, foundations and for-profits with a social mission.