Expanding access to high-quality preschool is critically important to ensuring that every child in America has the opportunity for lifelong success—but despite the evidence showing the importance of early learning, earlier this summer, House and Senate committees authored partisan spending bills that make significant cuts to programs that provide important services such as health care, public health and safety, job training and education. Both bills eliminate Preschool Development Grants, a program that is in the middle of building and expanding high-quality preschool in over 200 high-need communities across 18 states that span the geographic and political spectrum.
“Congress is moving forward with a plan that would take critical early learning opportunities from the children who need it the most—delaying their learning by a year and missing an opportunity to chip away at the educational gaps that exist for children from low- and moderate-income families. These children and their families cannot afford to wait for Washington to decide whether or not they get the right start for success,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
“Experiences we offer young children in their first few years have a lasting impact on children’s development for the rest of their lives. We have to make sure those experiences foster children’s development holistically, including their cognitive, social-emotional and physical development. We must continue to expand—not cut—access to high-quality early learning programs for our youngest children, continue enhancing the quality of our programs to keep pace with what science tells us are best practices and keep working to ensure that all children arrive at school ready to succeed,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell.
In 2014, these states received grants to expand the number of children in high-quality preschool programs both by funding new preschool classrooms and by improving the quality of existing preschool programs. Pulling these funds away from states and communities in the last two years of the grant would jeopardize their plans to serve nearly 60,000 additional children and would leave another 43,000 children to attend preschool in programs in need of important quality improvements.
The president’s budget offers a different path that builds on the good work underway in states and calls for expanding this program to 26 to 32 additional applicants, which includes states, the Bureau of Indian Education, tribal educational agencies, territories and the Outlying Areas. This investment would allow an estimated 350,000 additional children access to high-quality preschool over the course of four years. The president has made it a priority to expand educational opportunity for our nation’s children, starting with our youngest learners and has put forward a vision that would support the healthy development and growth of children from birth to kindergarten entry. Preschool Development Grants are a critical step toward voluntary, universal access to high-quality early learning that gives all children a strong start in school and life.
The president’s budget invests in early education and other areas critical to the nation’s future economic growth because it reverses harmful sequestration cuts, replacing them with smart reforms in a budget that continues to cut the deficit. The Republican spending bills, by contrast, continue these harmful cuts and shortchange education and many other areas.
• Across the country, Preschool Development Grants are well underway in high-need communities, many of which are able for the first time to provide high-quality preschool to children from low- and moderate-income families. Providing high-quality preschool for children with high needs helps ensure that they will be able to start kindergarten ready to succeed. Below is a table with state-by-state estimates of the number of 4-year-olds served by this grant.
• The 18 states that received Preschool Development Grants represent only half of the 36 states that developed a plan and applied for the program. This demonstrates the strong interest from states to partner with the federal government to address the tremendous need for greater access to high-quality preschool. Approximately 285,000 preschoolers could have been served if funding had been robust enough to fund all states that applied.
• The administration proposed $750 million for Preschool Development Grants in 2016, a $500 million increase compared with its 2015 funding level. This increase would be a meaningful step forward in addressing the unmet need for more high-quality preschool, enabling 26-32 additional states, the Bureau of Indian Education, tribal educational agencies, territories, or the Outlying Areas to receive a grant. It would lay the groundwork for the administration’s goal of ensuring that all children have access to high-quality preschool.
• The diversity of the 18 states that received grants reflects the fact that increasing access to preschool is a bipartisan priority across the country. From Massachusetts and Montana to Alabama and Hawaii, Preschool Development Grants are designed to help states move forward with high-quality preschool, whether that means expanding an already successful preschool program or helping to build state-level capacity and put in place quality improvements to serve more children in high-quality settings.
• If funding is zeroed out for this important initiative, the 18 states that are now operating Preschool Development Grant-funded programs may lose a significant portion of the more than $640 million that has been pledged in state and local funding and public-private partnerships. The Preschool Development Grants program calls for grantees to line up additional state and local financial commitments, including philanthropic commitments, known as “matching funds,” that could be lost to other purposes if the grants are eliminated by Congress.
WHY INVESTING IN PRESCHOOL IS SO IMPORTANT
The early years in a child’s life build the foundation needed for success later in school and life. This period is a critically important window of opportunity where profound developments in reasoning, language acquisition and problem solving occur. These years are particularly key for children from low-income families, who, on average, start kindergarten 12 to 14 months behind their peers in pre-reading and language skills.
An alarming number of children in our nation—including more than 2 million children who come from families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level—are cut off from high-quality preschool. The United States ranks 31 out of 39 countries within the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development for preschool enrollment for 4-year-olds.
Investments in early education produce outsize returns. Studies have shown that high-quality early learning programs can generate an outsized return on investment by reducing the need for spending on other services, such as remedial education, grade repetition and special education, as well as increased productivity and benefits to society and improved health outcomes and increased earnings for these children as adults.
THE REPUBLICAN BUDGET FRAMEWORK WILL FORCE CUTS TO CRITICAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS FOR STUDENTS OF ALL AGES AND GRADE LEVELS
The elimination of Preschool Development Grants is part of a larger Republican budget plan that shortchanges education for students of all ages. The Republican budget framework would lock in sequestration funding levels for fiscal year 2016, doubling down on austerity budgeting. The Republicans’ 2016 budget framework would bring base discretionary funding for both non-defense and defense to the lowest levels in a decade, adjusted for inflation. In contrast, the president’s budget would reverse sequestration and replace the savings with commonsense spending and tax reforms—all while continuing to reduce the deficit. It makes the critical investments needed to support our national security and accelerate and sustain economic growth in the long run, including research, education, training and infrastructure.
The difference in the approach is stark. For example:
Children in Head Start are shortchanged by both the House and Senate spending bills. Under these bills, either more than 570,000 children in Head Start would not receive the full-day, full-year services they need to succeed, the program would serve some 140,000 fewer children as compared with the president’s budget, or some combination of both. In contrast, the president’s budget is guided by compelling evidence that students who spend more time in high-quality early learning programs learn more. It provides a $1.5 billion increase for Head Start so that all Head Start children have access to a full school day and year of high-quality instruction and to increase enrollment.
Compared with to the president’s budget, overall pre-K-12 funding at the Department of Education is cut by $5.1 billion under the House bill and cut by $3.9 billion under the Senate bill. This drastic reduction in funding would underfund core programs including Title I, which supports educational improvements for our most vulnerable students and slash programs for educators who are doing the important work of preparing America’s students for the future.
The Investing in Innovation Fund, an evidence-based initiative that is helping spur new solutions to persistent educational challenges and build knowledge of what works in the pre-K-12 system, would be eliminated under the House and Senate bills. This program, which is expanded under the president’s budget, provides funding to school districts and their partners to identify, validate and scale-up efforts to support effective teachers and principals, turn around persistently low-performing schools and leverage technology to accelerate student learning.