State of Emergency Declared for U.S. Preschool

For those of us working hard to provide more vulnerable young children with access to quality care and preschool programs, it was alarming to read the new report released from the National Institute for Early Education Research.  The NIEER report found that although states are serving the same percentage of children as they did last year, their average spending has fallen from $4,284 to $3,841 per child. NIEER’s Director W. Steven Barnett told the Washington Post that the state of preschool is “a state of emergency.”

Funding cuts to Head Start as a result of sequestration are also worrisome.  If nothing is done, Head Start could serve 70,000 fewer children and 14,000 early childhood jobs could be eliminated.  And these numbers don’t include the impact on working parents who won’t be able to find quality child care, nor the effect on employers who need those workers on the job each day.

The NIEER report and the cuts to Head Start are a sad dose of reality at a time when we cheer President Obama’s proposal to make high-quality preschool available to all four-year-olds in low- and moderate-income families.

Early childhood experts, educators, business leaders, and economists are providing compelling evidence for the value of investing in quality care and education of our infants, toddlers and preschoolers.  The best way to get and keep children on the path to success is to begin at birth and continue through age eight, and to build policies that support this healthy trajectory.  And, multiple studies have demonstrated that high-quality preschool programs can produce sustained benefits, particularly for disadvantaged children including improved academic success, reduced rates of retention or need for special education services, higher rates of high school graduation and reduced rates of crime. No other policy area has the potential to reach across so many sectors with positive impact.  We are thrilled there is more attention to the fact that investing in early childhood pay dividends for society as a whole.

We are pleased that both Mississippi and New Mexico, states in which the Alliance supported local efforts, recently passed legislation that provides publicly-funded pre-school in Mississippi and preK, child care, and accountability for home visiting in New Mexico.  Other states like Michigan are on track to make significant policy improvements as well. 

However, when it comes to financial investments, some states have been pulling back.  The NIEER report is a stark reminder of the work we have yet to accomplish in our push for high quality early care and education for America’s most vulnerable young children.

The combination of new federal opportunity and proven results makes this a significant moment in time.  We must raise a sense of urgency to get and keep young children on a path to success. If we are going to make progress, we have to execute a well-orchestrated campaign that leads with our strong message, engages policymakers, media and the public and is fought at all levels from Congress, to statehouses to local governments.  We’re pleased to say the Alliance is supporting efforts to ensure state advocacy informs the newly proposed federal initiative.  We are working closely with partners at the First Five Years Fund leading a national campaign and the Strong Start Coalition.  Please, join us, since as you know, we are better and stronger together!

Lisa Klein, Executive Director, Alliance for Early Success (May 3, 2013)