Break on Through--for Kids

No sooner had tired eyes dried post-Obama victory speech than the ECE policy wonks, edu-pundits, and advocates were in full swing.  A host of issues await action in the shadow of the —nearly $500 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts, scheduled for the new year, which pose a grave threat to America’s most

Over at the New America Foundation, a team of laid out their “Big Questions” as 2012 winds down:

  • How will the president prioritize early education as legislators and the White House embark on negotiations?
  • Will the president push Congress to reauthorize the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant? (The grant, which provides more than two billion in child care subsidies, hasn’t been reauthorized—are you ready?—in 16 years.)
  • How will Race to the Top and other signature grant programs—Early Learning Challenge, Investing in Innovation, and Promise Neighborhoods—evolve?
  • What will happen to Head Start, now under the microscope in the recompetition process mandated by the program’s 2007 reauthorization?

Ever optimistic and even-handed, the authors noted that early learning advocates would be pleased  that programs such as Head Start would be “less likely to be severely cut with a Democratic Senate and White House to help safeguard them.”  They do concede, however, that all who believe—myself, included— that “Obama’s early education policies were too little too late might remain disappointed.”

Indeed.  And my fears were only heightened after listening in to a post-election discussion today on early learning hosted by the First Five Years Fund, featuring Ruth Friedman, Director of Education Policy for the House Committee on Education & the Workforce (a developmental psychologist, by the way), and her Senate counterpart, Lindsay Hunsicker, Senior Education Policy Advisor for the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.  Friedman stated, right upfront, that she was unclear about the status of cuts to domestic programs.  “Money is tight,” she bluntly declared, stating the obvious.

“The early childhood system is known as a ‘tossed salad,’” observed the webinar’s moderator  at one point during the conversation.  Her obligatory reference to the fractured state of our system—no surprise—immediately forced up my antennae.  “Are there efforts to make this more coherent?” she asked.  Friedman responded that effective school reform is not going to start at kindergarten, or preschool, acknowledging the “inherent challenges” in creating systems. So far, so good.   “We’re not ready to make early childhood education mandatory,” she concluded,  “we have a long way to go.”  Don’t we ever.

Hunsicker zoomed in on the question of quality: how do we drive it, she asked, for programs, education providers, and systems?  “Early childhood has not been in front of the committee,” she added, “in ways that we would like.”  And nobody, not a soul, mentioned the “P” words: poverty and Promise Neighborhoods.  Talk about a fragmented approach to children’s healthy development and learning.

Here’s THE question, posed by the moderator:  “How can the field break through all the ”

And here’s a really good answer:  It behooves the field, urged Friedman, to educate everyone about what child care means—about parents’ ability to stay employed, and children’s academic success.  It’s really important, she said to establish relationships with congressional officials, and to articulate what decreases in early learning programs will mean for children.  “It’s about repeatedly having these conversations.”

What are your thoughts in the shadow of the “fiscal cliff”?

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