Florida is in the bottom half of states in child healthcare and its pre-k program doesn't meet national standards, so in September state leaders will rally for big changes.
Milk is the new Tea.
At least that's what former Miami Herald publisher Dave Lawrence would like his fellow Floridians to believe when, next month, the long-time child advocate will host a series of statewide rallies he's dubbed Milk Parties.
Cookies and milk will be served, but there will also be strong medicine discussed: How to best attack the woefully sad Florida track record with the state's children.
"I am a frustrated Floridian," Lawrence told a group of influential supporters. "By every objective standard, Florida ranks poorly in measure after measure of how we invest in children."
Lawrence discussed how the state spends only three cents for every dollar on kids. The state's pre-kindergarten program does not meet most national standards, and hundreds of thousands of Florida kids have no health insurance. Twenty-five percent of the state's high school students do not graduate.
Lawrence and a statewide group of movers and shakers has formed a non-partisan group called Children's Movement of Florida. They are outlining the group's goals with a series of press conferences across the state. In September, the CMF will stage 15 major rallies from the Florida Panhandle to Key West. The message at each rally: high quality child care, high quality pre-kindergarten, parental skill building and health insurance for all Florida kids.
Former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz is a key player in the group saying, "It is going to cost us a lot more to have these kids in jail than it is to invest in them while they are in school and keep them out of jail."
"I have witnessed it as a child. This is my community. I am aware of all the things going on. We have to reclaim our community and the best way to do that is with our youth."
It is no secret that many South Florida youngsters are without hope, much less dreams of the future. They don't get much of a head start on life. Lawrence's group hopes to ease the pain in future years by urging politicos to designate more funds for early childhood development.
"Children who get off to a good start in life will have momentum all their lives," said Lawrence.
Backed with a million dollars in private funds, the CMF, with the rallies, hopes to educate Florida's political, business, and civic leaders as well as parents urging that lawmakers make children their number one priority.
The cookies may be sweet, but the message will not be sugar coated: Florida has a crisis on its hands.