“Today, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), co-chairs of the Budget Conference Committee, unveiled a long-awaited budget agreement. While the two-year agreement reduces further planned cuts to much-needed services for low income children and families for the next two years, including additional painful cuts to Head Start, I am deeply disappointed that it does not do more to boost our economy by including increased investments in high-quality early childhood education for children from birth to age 5.
While the deal addresses some future impacts of sequestration on Head Start, it can’t do anything to undo the damage to the 57,000 young children who were deprived of the opportunity to attend a Head Start program due to sequestration.
Like many, we are pleased to see compromise reached on Capitol Hill. We appreciate the careful thinking and efforts that went into the agreement. But, it is impossible to ignore the facts – this deal does little to improve the long-term economic standing of the United States. Yet, it could have.
An increased investment in high-quality early childhood education for disadvantaged children birth to age 5 is one of the most effective strategies for improving education, health and economic outcomes in our country. Decades of research clearly show that children who participate in high-quality early learning programs are less likely to need costly special education and remediation programs and are far less likely to enter the criminal justice system, resulting in real cost savings to taxpayers.
Our nation’s political leaders missed a truly unique opportunity to invest in human capital development that is critical for sustained economic development. Dozens of economists and neuroscientists have proven the value of early childhood education, and a broad coalition of supporters – including cops and prosecutors, military leaders, top CEOs, K-12 educators and more than 500 state legislators – have joined forces with early childhood advocates to demand the federal government increase its support for programs that deliver strong economic returns.
We do understand that the budget agreement gives a nod to early childhood education by signaling to other Congressional committees that early learning is a key priority and creating procedural protections for early learning legislation. But despite the widely documented and agreed-upon economic benefits of and support for high-quality early childhood education, the budget committee was unable to provide any immediate new resources.
A poll conducted this summer by the bipartisan research team of Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research found that 86 percent of American voters – Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike – believe it should be a national priority to ensure that children get a strong start in life – second only to increasing jobs and economic growth.
Today’s agreement underscores the need to move past the minimum to focus on maximizing education, health and economic outcomes for all Americans. Members of Congress must now turn their attention to long-term budget strategies that can reduce the debt by increasing productivity in the short and long-term. Investing in quality early childhood development is the way to accomplish both goals.
Tomorrow is a new day – and Congress has another opportunity to get it right. Just a few weeks ago, a group of bipartisan legislators introduced the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, which would help states and communities improve and expand high-quality, full-day preschool programs for 4-year-olds, while giving states flexibility to provide services for infants and toddlers. Supporting locally based early education efforts by strengthening current programs and providing greater access to low and moderate income families is just what this country needs. Right now.”