Courtney: We need to create a pro-children country in a post-Roe reality

Featuring a conversation with First Focus on Children’s President, Bruce Lesley.


by Zach Courtney

We live in a new, post-Roe country. I don’t like to say it, but it’s true. At this point, the more interesting, worthwhile question is this: what should the next step be for pro-choicers like me?

Some will call for Congress to pass legislation into law that protects a woman’s right to choose. That would be great, but it’s unlikely to happen in a broken Senate because of the filibuster. Some will call for the Democrats to reshape the Court to be more pro-choice. That would also be great, but it would take a long time to actually happen.

To be clear – pro-choicers should work to make these things happen too (we can walk and chew gum at the same time!) but our current, most urgent step is to make our country as pro-children as possible.

Before the Court released the Dobbs decision in June, I talked to Bruce Lesley, the president of First Focus on Children, and we discussed what we can and should do to help our children.

Unsurprisingly, our conversation started with the expansion of the child tax credit, which expired at the end of 2021. This has led to millions of children falling back into poverty.

“It’s pretty tragic … The evidence is pretty clear that it’s a disaster for kids to grow up in poverty,” Lesley said.

With the new Dobbs decision returning the issue of abortion to the states, it’s obvious that more people who are financially unready to become parents will become parents because of their lack of access to abortion services. Over the next generation, I expect this to lead to an uptick in child poverty rates — unless we do something to stop it. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: the best way to end child poverty is to give money to their parents. It really is that simple.

“It makes no sense that we as a country allow kids to live in poverty,” Lesley said.

He’s right. There’s the fundamental issue — we as a society should help our youngest, most vulnerable population thrive, period. But supposed fiscal conservatives and market fundamentalists should want to eradicate child poverty, too.

It depends on the study, but child poverty costs the U.S. economy between $700 billion and $1.1 trillion annually. Eradicating child poverty would cost an estimated $100 billion annually, making the eradication of child poverty the fiscally conservative thing to do. Allowing child poverty to exist is fiscally irresponsible — not to mention morally bankrupt — on the part of our government.

Next, I asked Lesley about universal, taxpayer-funded preschool. To me, it’s a necessity. In my work with young children in summer recreation programs, I can tell that some kids are already ahead of their peers both socially and academically. We need to close this gap before it widens. The best way to do this is to give parents of three- and four year-olds the opportunity to send their children to universal, taxpayer-funded preschool.

“The evidence is very clear that making investment in child development has huge benefits. We now know that kids start off way behind, and they never catch up,” Lesley said.

Not only is there a lack of public funding for universal preschool, there’s also a lack of public funding for K-12 schooling. We need to pay our teachers more. In order to truly get the most out of our children, we need the best people our society has to offer to become teachers. People often say teachers have the most important job in the world. I agree — now let’s pay them like it.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s proposal to make Minnesota teachers the highest-paid in the country would be a good start, but it needs to happen across the country, not just here in Minnesota.

The bottom line is this — now, more than ever, we need more pro-children policies at the federal level.

We could eradicate child poverty if we wanted, ensuring our children have a decent life through at least their first 18 years.

We could send all three- and four-year-olds to preschool if we wanted, ensuring our children don’t fall behind academically before they even get started.

We could make school lunch free, ensuring our children can focus on academics, not hunger.

We could pay our teachers more if we wanted, ensuring our children have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

We could do all of these things and more — we just need to make these pro-children issues a priority.

Luckily, Lesley offered me a bright spot on all of this.

“We’ve talked a lot about pessimistic things … your generation is definitely very pro-kid. And if that holds, kids will start to see better results in how legislative bodies deal with that,” Lesley said.

Here’s to making it happen.