There's a wonderful passage in Genesis in which Esau andJacob -- surrounded by their children, wives, workers and herds --encounter each other and reconcile after years of estrangement.

Esau then invites Jacob to accompany him as they travel on. Jacob,however, is concerned that to do so would mean driving the herds toohard and exhausting the children. As a result, some would be unable tokeep up and would be left behind. And so Jacob declines the invitation,saying, "I will lead on slowly ... according to the pace of thechildren."

Acting on the wisdom of Jacob, we too need to alter our gait toensure the safety and well-being of children.

The responsibility for making progress in a way that ensures thatevery child moves ahead has been at the forefront of the Children'sDefense Fund's mission since its inception. In 1990, we began to expressthat commitment as one which would "Leave No Child Behind."

"Leave No Child Behind" strikes a deep and resonant chord with allkinds of people who love and care about children, as concern forchildren being left behind cuts across lines of income, race, ethnicity,political party and geography.

Leave no child behind is the aching refrain in so many hearts, isthe chant of so many determined wills, is the challenge for so manythoughtful minds. It is the cry of parents struggling in poverty whowitness daily the obstacles blocking their children's health anddevelopment, from lead poisoning, asthma and untreated ear and eyeproblems, to undernutrition.

It is the call of middle-income parents who worry about finding andaffording decent child care for their youngest children, who areconcerned about failing schools that leave many children less preparedthan their counterparts across town or around the world, and who alreadywonder how they will ever afford college tuition.

"Leave no child behind" was also heard on the lips of President Bushas he campaigned for office.

But "leave no child behind" must be more than a well-turned phrase,if it is to be the expression of what is best in us, of what is best forus, for America. We must hold accountable all who profess it -- frompresident to parents -- and insist their actions embody what their wordsproclaim.

That the task to "leave no child behind" still lies before us adecade after CDF initiated this refrain is testimony to the extent ofthe challenge.

In 1989, one out of every five children lived in poverty. While somefamilies have risen out of poverty since then due to the growth of theeconomy, today one out of every six children are still poor in therichest nation on Earth. It is to our great national shame that morethan 12 million children are being left behind despite our $10 trillioneconomy.

For a God whose "eye is on the sparrow," even one child lost tobody- stunting, dream-crushing, mind-limiting, hope-deadening poverty isone child too many.

As Jacob contemplated the journey ahead, he decided to travelforward in the way that would best protect and care for the children. Hedidn't abandon his destination, he just made sure he got there the rightway. As we contemplate the way forward for our children, we, too, mustcommit ourselves to progress that leaves no child behind. This calls forboth big vision and carefully planned first steps.

We -- as individuals, faith communities, states and a nation -- canand must set a goal of eliminating child poverty within 10 years. As weeradicated the smallpox that once cut short children's lives and is nowa thing of the past, we can eradicate child poverty in this, the richestnation on Earth. It won't happen overnight and it won't happen withouteffort, but with leadership, careful planning, broad commitment andconcerted action, it can happen. It is a mission worthy of a greatnation and the plumb line that will measure the justice and compassionof America.

Joining the faith leaders who recently met with President Bush, weshould call on the president to reduce child poverty by 50 percent by2004 as the first bench mark in eliminating child poverty.

Real commitment to this goal will be measured, then, by the nationalpriorities embodied in any tax cut. Whom will it benefit the most: thechildren and the neediest, or the wealthy? Will the tax cut reduce orfurther increase what is already the largest gap between rich and poorin history? A tax cut must not be permitted to further erode ournational capacity to help children, especially those who need it themost.

To ensure children aren't last or left out in a tax cut, we mustmake refundable the Child Tax Credit which Bush proposes to increasefrom $500 to $1,000. In this way, even those who owe no tax wouldreceive the credit. This single step of a refundable Child Tax Creditwould lift one-sixth of poor children out of poverty. However, not tomake the Child Tax Credit refundable would leave behind 16 millionchildren -- one in four of the nation's children.

Justice requires that this proposal reach all children, which issomething only a refundable credit will do.

After their long-awaited reunion, Jacob and Esau had the samedestination before them. But Jacob, mindful of the weakest, youngestmembers of his household, determined to move ahead in a way that wouldnot leave the most vulnerable ones behind. More than 10 centuries later,we should do no less.

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