Posted by Brett Kincaid on October 30th 2013
Here at Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, we're in the business of making sure all children in the state have the opportunity to live happy and productive lives. It's something we've been doing for over 35 years. Over that course of time we've learned a lot about the legislative process. Every couple of years we like to think about what we've learned and put it all down in one place, making it accessible to those who want to be better child advocates.
Today, we're releasing a guide for those who care about kids' issues and want to learn more about becoming an effective advocate. It focuses heavily on the state's budget - how it's created, where funding comes from, and what interests are at play. More and more, health, education, juvenile justice, and child welfare services all revolve around what resources the state has.
The guide is called "Rules of the Game: How to Navigate the Arkansas Tax and Budget System." It's a map that helps readers navigate what can sometimes be a complicated system. In it, we explain how the budget affects issues and programs child advocates care about, where funding for those programs originate, and what concerned citizens can do to influence the system. This is the first in a series of tools AACF plans to release in the coming months.
A budget is - at its most basic - a list of priorities. State governments must prioritize limited resources each year. They do this by identifying programs and systems that need public investment. As child advocates, we have a responsibility to make sure lawmakers - those that set and approve the budget - know where we want those investments to be made.
Are we going to spend our tax dollars on health care for hard-working people that still can't make ends meet? Or should we create tax cuts for extremely wealthy individuals and businesses? Should we invest in after-school and juvenile justice programs that keep kids safe, help working families, and inspire our children to learn? Or should we build more prisons? Do Arkansas's children deserve modern school facilities, pre-K programs that we know improve the outcomes of the state's future workers, and a level playing field regardless of whether a child is born in Blytheville or Bentonville? Or should we funnel taxpayer dollars to private or charter schools with little to no accountability for how those dollars are spent?
"Rules of the Game" helps make sense of the complicated budgeting process and offers tips and tools to advocates who want to make sure children have a voice in the political process in Arkansas.