Congress Postpones Early Childhood Education Spending Cut Decisions Until March
First Five Years Fund Urges Legislators to Protect and Invest in Early Childhood Education to Strengthen Economy

Early childhood education programs will be spared the prospect of the largest across-the-board cuts in history, but only temporarily, under a bill to avert the “fiscal cliff,” approved by Congress earlier this week.

The American Tax Relief Act delays the across-the-board spending cuts (sequestration) that were set to hit early childhood programs and most all other domestic spending on Jan. 2. Under the deal, the cuts are postponed until March, giving lawmakers the opportunity to craft a broader budget agreement. To help pay for postponing sequestration, Congress agreed to raise $12 billion in revenue from tax increases on household incomes above $450,000 and cut $12 billion in spending, including $6 billion from domestic programs. It is unclear whether spending cuts would affect early education programs.

“Being spared deep, painful cuts for 60 days does not make us rest easy,” said Kris Perry, Executive Director of the First Five Years Fund. “We’ve essentially just moved the cliff to March. Our hope is that Congress will take this time to consider carefully the short- and long-term economic and social benefits quality early childhood development programs bring to our entire society before jumping off.”

Should the spending cuts on the table go into effect, Head Start and child care, like most other non-defense discretionary programs, would be cut by 8.2 percent. Cuts of this magnitude could mean more than 100,000 children lose access to Head Start and 80,000 families lose child care assistance. Classrooms and centers could close, and as many as 20,000 teachers and staff could face lay-offs.

In contrast, every dollar invested in early childhood development produces a 7-10 percent return—per child, per year—in reduced social spending and increased productivity, according to research conducted by Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago Economics Professor James Heckman. Protecting and investing in the critical infrastructure that programs such as Head Start and child care provide can facilitate parents’ employment, reduce special education costs and improve educational outcomes, while building a more productive workforce and stronger economy.

“Congress has a choice,” said Ms. Perry. “They can invest in programs that facilitate employment, save money and show economic returns or close classrooms, layoff staff, leave tens of thousands of families without the resources they need to go to work, and significantly reduce the chances of at-risk children succeeding in school and later in life.”