The President just released his FY12 budget, and the news is good for early education. So as not to “bury the lead,” here are the proposed numbers fresh off the presses:

  • $350 million for the Early Learning Challenge Fund
  • $866 million for Head Start and Early Head Start
  • $1.3 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant.

Yay. But keep the Veuve Cliquot on ice for now. Remember, this is the federal budget process. About a dozen significant hurdles must be cleared before those numbers become reality.

The mother of all those hurdles remains the FY11 budget. Yes, we’re tired of it, too. And yes, FY11 began in October. On Friday, leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives released their proposed budget for the remaining seven months of this fiscal year, and that budget cuts deep. Bone deep. The heavy hatchets did not spare vulnerable children. All recent gains for early learning would be wiped out and then some, forcing a cut of 218,000 children from Head Start and Early Head Start. Another 150,000 low-income children in child care would lose services. It’s the Valentine’s Day Massacre, potentially wiping out the opportunity to help prevent the achievement gap and produce a generation of economic gains for all Americans.

So our intense fight now turns to the Senate for the next few weeks, to minimize the damage. Once these funds disappear, it’s an enormously heavy lift to get them restored, no matter how promising the President’s budget for the next year looks.

These are challenging economic times, and this work is not fun. But we remain convinced, thanks to every piece of evidence available, that quality early childhood pays off in myriad ways – in better education, health, character and, ultimately, in a stronger economy. Policymakers on both sides of the political aisle understand that, though, clearly, not all of them. Let’s remind them. Again.