WASHINGTON, D.C. | February 5, 2014
The debate on early childhood education has taken center stage in recent months. In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama called early education “one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life.” He’s right. Early childhood education and development programs can have a lasting influence on a child, laying the foundation for future success and achievement in school, the workplace, and life.
Since the 1960s, the federal government has played an active role in helping children - especially those in low-income families – gain access to critical early care and development services. The first program, established under the Social Security Act of 1962,
helped disadvantaged families afford child care. Since then, dozens of additional federal programs have been established to provide a range of development services for children from birth through age five.
According to a 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office, there are now 45 federal programs linked to early childhood education and care operated by several different federal agencies. These programs, as you can see from the graphic we’ve displayed on the screen and in the hearing room, are in addition to dozens of programs operated at the state level.
The GAO report also found taxpayers dedicate more than $13 billion annually to support education or related services for children under the age of five – a hefty price tag that is getting even bigger thanks to new funding included in the FY 2014 omnibus appropriations bill. Despite this considerable investment, serious questions remain as to whether these federal programs are producing the positive results our kids deserve.
The Head Start program, for example, has been the subject of concern since the release of the 2010 Head Start Impact Study and the 2012 Third Grade Follow-Up to the Head Start Impact Study. Head Start receives approximately $8 billion dollars a year – more than half of the total investment in early care and development – yet the studies found little difference between the achievement levels of children who had participated in the program and those who had not.
During a visit to the Harlem Children’s Zone last summer, I saw firsthand that amazing things can happen in Head Start classrooms. But these troubling studies highlight the need to assess the challenges facing Head Start and consider smart reforms to strengthen the program. In fact, many federal early care and education programs are in need of serious review. This should be our first priority, not rubber-stamping a 46th federal program.
As we examine the current federal early childhood education and care system this morning, my Republican colleagues and I believe we should discuss opportunities to streamline the mountain of existing federal programs, reduce regulatory burdens, and improve transparency to make it easier for providers and parents to understand their options. And above all, we must work together to ensure these programs are serving disadvantaged families first, consistent with the original intent of the federal investment in early childhood programs.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee recently took steps toward these fundamental goals with legislation to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant. As you know, CCDBG provides funds to states to help low-income families access quality child care, and has been due for reauthorization for over a decade. The Senate bill, approved by the committee late last year, includes several commonsense provisions that will help empower parents and enhance coordination between CCDBG and other federal early care and development programs, such as Head Start. I believe this proposal provides a solid foundation to begin related discussions in this committee, and look forward to working with my colleagues on this initiative in the coming months.
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