As Congress seeks to avoid triggering across-the-board cuts to education, the nonprofit First Five Years Fund is urging legislators to invest in quality early childhood development. According to a video released by the organization, investing now in early childhood education would ensure that students are school and workforce-ready, reducing the achievement gap and boosting graduation rates.
In a press statement, Kris Perry, the group's executive director, spoke to the importance of funding Head Start pre-school programs, which primarily serve low-income families.
“Right now Congress has an opportunity to be smart about building a more prosperous future,” she said. “If lawmakers are wise, we can both save and invest dollars for better returns. Protecting and investing in the critical infrastructure that programs such as Head Start and Child Care provide can facilitate parents’ employment, save special education costs and improve educational outcomes, while building a more productive workforce and stronger economy.”
The campaign comes as Congress debates a solution to the "fiscal cliff," with funding for education programs at risk for significant cuts come January. Three federal programs critical to education -- Title I funds for poor students, state grants for special education and Head Start -- would lose $2.7 billion over 10 years if sequestration goes forward, according to a Senate report. As many as 15,000 teachers and aides could lose their jobs, and 10,000 special education workers could be laid off.
The First Five Years Fund notes the consequences of cuts to federal education funding would be particularly harmful to the 25 percent of children in the United States under the age of 5 who live in poverty, including 43 percent of African-American children and 36 percent of Latino children.
A joint report by Save the Children and First Focus released in October awarded the U.S. a C-minus on early childhood education based on early learning program availability and enrollment, as well as access to child care. State funding for preschool programs decreased by nearly $60 million last year -- the second consecutive year of funding cuts. In 2009, the latest year for which data is available, only one in six eligible families received childcare assistance through the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF), the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) or the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG).
The First Five Years Fund argues these gaps in early childhood development lead many children to enter kindergarten lacking the foundational skills and other capabilities necessary to succeed in school.
Citing data from economists, social scientists and medical experts, the organization argues comprehensive development from birth to age five -- particularly for disadvantaged children and their families -- yields positive outcomes in higher educational attainment, improved health and economic prosperity. More specifically, research conducted by Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago Economics Professor James Heckman has found that every dollar invested in early childhood development produces a 7 to 10 percent return, per child per year, in reduced social spending and increased productivity.