Last month we celebrated the Month of the Young Child. Everywhere, we focused attention on the needs of young children and their families and recognized the early childhood programs and services that meet those needs. Well, almost everywhere. The White House recently released its FY2018 "skinny" budget. The funding cuts in education are big, and, unlike the past few budgets, early learning is not even mentioned. Remember, this is just a proposal, and Congress will use this guidance as they draft their next funding plan for the government. Meanwhile, Congress is finalizing the FY2017 budget this week – it’s over 7 months late. That is a long time for our children to wait. And while many programs supporting young children have been spared the knife, the administration promises to be more forceful next time. From the comments (and tweets) made, we could not be in a more perilous time for our children and ensuring that they get equitable opportunities to high-quality early learning.
When Congress makes its decision on how to spend taxpayer funds, they must put children first. That means not making “big league” cuts to the programs that benefit our most vulnerable children, like Head Start, Child Care, special education services, and the Preschool Development Grants. In Maryland, nearly 9,000 three- and four-year-olds are served through the federally-funded Head Start program. This year, over 2,400 of Maryland’s most vulnerable children are attending high-quality early learning programs through the Preschool Development Grants program, and tens of thousands are getting this critical intervention across 17 other states. If funding is cut, tens of thousands of children will not get access to the educational opportunities they need for success in school.
The results of last year’s Kindergarten Readiness Assessment revealed that 43% of Maryland’s students entered kindergarten demonstrating the foundational knowledge, skills, and behaviors need to thrive. Educational gaps continue to persist across various groups; for example, 37% of African American children demonstrate readiness compared to 53% of their white counterparts. Only one-in-three children from low-income families and one-in-five Dual Language Learners have the skills they need to fully engage in learning when they enter kindergarten. Research shows that providing children with high-quality early learning can have a positive effect on the educational and life trajectories of children, yet, over half of Maryland’s four-year-olds have no access to publicly-funded preschool. States and local communities want and depend on a partnership with the federal government in meeting the needs of our youngest learners. This is the best investment we can make in our children and our nation. Let’s not short change them.