Monday, March 7, 2011

Congress Debating Funding For Early Childhood Education

Dr. Edgar Hatrick, the superintendent of Loudoun County’s public school system, used an appearance before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to say that an early childhood education is extremely important. While this is the case throughout the country, Hatrick said it’s especially important in some of the larger and wealthier school districts that can be found in Northern Virginia because students are expected to arrive in kindergarten with a strong foundation in things like reading and writing. This means that students don’t have access to a good preschool education are forced to play catch up. Nonetheless, there is now a battle on the Hill over whether pre-K programs should be properly funded.

Although a pre-K education is a major factor in a child’s success when entering Kindergarten, many of the programs offering these services are expensive and many low income families can’t afford to send their children to preschool. That is why programs like Head Start, which helps to ensure low income students have access to a quality pre-K education, are so important. People who are involved with the education community realize this and are fighting hard to ensure that Head Start’s funding is preserved in the budget discussions. As Rep. Bishop pointed out after hearing testimony from Dr. Hatrick, however, the continuing resolution passed by the House Republicans cut $1.1 billion from the head start program.

With the House Republicans already illustrating that they’re willing to cut funding from programs that provide young children the skills they need to succeed in school, there’s a lot of discussion about what can be done to ensure these students actually receive the resources they need. The Senate is taking the lead on this as Sen. Bob Case introduced the Supporting State Systems of Early Learning Act. His office described the bill as one that “would establish an Early Learning Challenge Fund to help states build and strengthen systems of early learning, so that more low-income children ages zero to five have access to high-quality early learning and development opportunities that prepare them for success in school and beyond.”

Not only does this move make sense on a human nature level (we all want to make sure that students have the opportunity to succeed), but Sen. Casey put out a statement highlighting how investing in early childhood education also makes financial sense.
“Investing in early learning pays off. Economists have estimated a return on investment for early childhood education programs of approximately 16 percent,” said Senator Casey. “This legislation will establish a one-time investment to help states raise the bar on program quality and provide more children with early access to high-quality education.”

“Early education is a sound investment with a proven return on investment, which is why the business community supports early learning initiatives like the Supporting State Systems of Early Learning Act that Senator Casey is introducing,” said Jack Brennan, former Chairman and CEO of the Vanguard Group and member of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission. “This bill calls upon states, in partnership with private entities, to invest in improving the quality of early learning.”
While this program only covers about one-third of the cuts that the House GOP is proposing towards pre-K education, a lot of education advocates are happy to see Sen. Casey taking some leadership on the issue. Even the business community is rallying behind the bill because they realize this is an investment that will reap rewards well beyond the initial dollar amount. The business community also likes the fact that the money is awarded in a competitive process, which is something that we also saw them rally behind when it was implemented with Obama’s Race to the Top program. With all that being said, it will be tough to get the GOP controlled House to sign on to the new investments in education in light of the commitment they’ve already shown to cutting funding to similar programs.

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