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Jewish World ReviewJune 2, 2000 / 28 Iyar, 5760

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

Federalizing care of kids -- HERE'S A QUIZ--which presidential candidate recently said, "Government doesn't raise children; families do. No policy proposal can teach a child right from wrong. No executive order can reconnect a deadbeat parent to a son or daughter. But we can make it easier, not harder to be a strong family. If I'm entrusted with the presidency, that's exactly what I'll do"?

Those words may sound positively Reaganesque. But just days ago they were proclaimed by none other than presidential aspirant Al Gore. And it soon becomes clear why they are "Clinton/Goresque"--because like his boss, Al Gore is using some family-oriented rhetoric to do anything but help families.

Gore is proposing a massive new federal program to get Uncle Sam fully in the business of taking care of your kids by providing extensive new systems of after-school care. He says kids are at the greatest risk of getting into all kinds of trouble in those after-school hours, and he wants to send the feds to the rescue.

Forget that government schools haven't generally done such a bang-up job of educating or protecting our kids of late. That makes no difference to Mr. Gore. He wants to dramatically expand his "21st Century Learning Centers" to provide after school programs to communities around the country; he's calling for every (yes every) school to stay open late; he plans to "recruit and train quality staff for after-school programs," and he wants to provide families with tax credits to pay for some of this after-school care.

I don't doubt that there are too many kids who are unsupervised after school because a single parent or both parents are at work.

Not just teens but younger "latch key" kids, too. And it's true that that's when they are most likely to get into trouble. But the last thing most parents want is more institutionalized child care of any stripe for their kids at any age. Instead, over and over again, parents--working women in particular--tell pollsters and focus groups that what they really want is to be able to work less and spend more time with their kids. Gore's proposals do nothing to make the far-and-away first choice of most working moms more possible.

Would you want this man
having any effect on your kids?

Nor do Gore's proposals help out the millions of families which are sacrificing to make sure that one parent doesn't work full-time, and can be available to the children. In fact, Gore's tax credit for after-school care totally discriminates against such families, in effect forcing them to subsidize the cost of institutionalized child-care for higher-earning two-income families. Someone should remind Mr. Gore that it's this discrimination against parents who take care of their own kids that sunk Bill Clinton's proposals for expanding government child care at all ages the last few times he tried to get those federal behemoths out of the starting gate.

But of course all this fits right in with Gore's world view, in which he and his friends don't really want to acknowledge such families. So, for instance, Gore craftily claims that in 70 percent of American households both "parents" work full time. But when only households with children age 18 and under are considered, the number is less than half that, according to the Census Bureau.

And if there is still any doubt that Mr. Gore's proposal is really about federalizing families even more, there is this hint in his press release. It says he wants to provide such care for up to 10 million young people, but later claims that only five million are currently without it. So, even if that latter number is accurate, he intends to gratuitously pick off at least an extra five million kids for Uncle Sam to mind.

If Gore really wanted to help families, he would call for dramatically lowering taxes on all of them--instead of increasing government spending on the backs of so many--so that those who are so squeezed now by the federal tax burden would have more economic freedom to make their own choices about work and family. Then, those who do want or need after-school care would be able to choose what's best for them and pay for it themselves.

But there's one reason, of course, why Mr. Gore and his cronies would never advance such a plan. They know very well that the vast majority of families, single and two-parent alike, would say "no thanks" to letting him and his minions be their kids' babysitter.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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01/25/00: Psuedo science and global warming
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12/27/99: Sometimes it matters quite a lot what government thinks
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