April 21, 2009 in City, Idaho

Speaker: Miami offers lesson for funding kids’ programs

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Find a list of agencies, events and ongoing coverage at spokesman.com/ourkids.

In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, 52 percent of residents are born in another country and about 60 percent are of Hispanic origin. Poverty is in constant contrast with the state’s wealthier residents, and a hurricane could wipe it all out at any moment.

Yet, it’s a community where people have rallied around children by supporting a dedicated source of funding for early childhood intervention and prevention programs.

It’s a model that could be replicated here.

“And so it can be in Spokane and anywhere,” said David Lawrence, retired Miami Herald publisher who delivered the keynote address Tuesday to people attending the third-annual Our Kids: Our Business luncheon at the Spokane Convention Center.

The event is a capstone to a month-long focus on child abuse prevention, which began with a series of newspaper stories and “A Call to Action” to support area youth in 2007. The past two years the focus of the project has been around education; this year the focus is mentoring.

Lawrence retired from the newspaper industry in 1999 after 35 years, in order to tackle early-childhood development issues. He currently is the president of the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation.

In 2002 Lawrence, with urging from a Florida governor, led a campaign for the Children’s Trust, which created revenue for early-childhood issues. He also was a key figure in passing a statewide constitutional amendment to provide pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds in Florida. Currently about 145,000 children are enrolled in pre-K.

“Building a movement can never be about ‘those children,” Lawrence said. “But about ‘our’ children.”

He compared the challenges in Miami to those in Spokane, also a community of contrasts, and offered staggering statistics to prove it.

A year of child care in Washington State is more expensive than a year of tuition at a Washington state college, he told the crowd.

One-third of all births in Spokane County are to unmarried single mothers. The rate of domestic violence is higher here than the state or national rates. And so is the arrest rate.

“It’s easy to overlook the pain and poverty that some of your neighbors live with,” Lawrence said. “All children deserve the chance to be contributing adults.”

Contact Sara Leaming at sarale@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5533.

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