The month of June, for some children, marks the end of their preschool year and the summer before kindergarten starts. For the lucky few that were afforded the opportunity to participate in high-quality preschool, these children have greater chances for success when they return to school in September. Sadly, though, 88 percent of Maryland's 3-year-olds and 57 percent of Maryland's 4-year-olds did not have access to publicly-funded early learning programs. In the 2015-2016 school year, only 5 percent of 3-year-olds and 36 percent of 4-year-olds in Maryland participated in the state’s high-quality preschool program. This means many parents likely had to make the tough decision on whether to spend their resources on food, housing, and other family needs or higher-quality early care and education. The cost of preschool for a four-year-old in the state is $9,000, and the cost of infant care is $13,000 per year, nearly $5,000 higher than the annual cost of college tuition. The president’s proposed 2018 budget will worsen access to affordable, quality early learning programs for children from poor and middle-class families.
Although the 2017 omnibus budget passed by Congress last month gave hope for a continued priority on early learning – a priority and value we came to expect for the last eight years – this new budget, if passed, would strike a devastating blow to our most vulnerable families and children. At the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Child Care and Head Start would be cut by $95 and $85 million, respectively. And the huge cuts to SNAP, Medicaid and other investments would further erode the healthy development of young children. While there has been talk of improving the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to address child care affordability, it’s not clear how much poor and low-income families would benefit compared to the upper middle-class.
At the U.S. Department of Education, the Administration has proposed “streamlining” more than 30 programs, which is another way of saying “eliminate:”
- Gone would be the entire $2.3 billion Title II grant program that supports pre- and in-service professional learning activities;
- New provisions in the newly-enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), on which I worked with my colleagues during my time at the Department, that link opportunities for educators in preschool and kindergarten through third grade would "die on the vine" and never have a chance for implementation;
- The $1.2 billion 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which provides critical summer, before- and after-school child care for more than a million low-income children and youth would be gone;
- The $190 million Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Development Grants, which are the only literacy program left at the Department and which devote 15 percent of the sub-granted funds to birth through age five programs, would evaporate;
- The Child Care Access Means Parents in School child care program for student parents, which makes it possible for many low-income students to continue their educations and support their families, would be cut; and
- The new Preschool Development Grants included in ESSA that would support states in coordinating their systems of early learning and provide services for children birth to age five, seem to have been “streamlined” and eliminated as well.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared a few weeks ago that Europe must "take our fate into our own hands." This past week, with the U.S. “getting out” of the Paris Climate Agreement, U.S. mayors, governors, and business leaders across the country declared “we are still in.” In many ways, states and communities are also now on their own when it comes to early childhood education, or at least may have to do more with a lot less Federal support. The State of Preschool 2016 shows that last year, state funding for preschool rose eight percent to about $7.4 billion – a $564 million increase - demonstrating strong commitments by governors to help children most susceptible to later school failure gain access to early education. In Maryland, the legislature has charged a diverse stakeholder workgroup to make recommendations on how to – not if we should - implement quality universal preschool for all 4-year-olds in the state. While a couple months ago, the Federal Government proposed to remove a question from the National Survey of Children’s Health asking parents if they were ever asked to keep their child out of an early care and education program because of behavior, Maryland’s legislature recently made the state the second in the nation to effectively ban suspensions and expulsions for preschool through second grade students. At Ready At Five’s Spring Symposium, we addressed the high rate of suspensions for preschoolers in the country and how implicit bias may be a contributing factor.
The president’s budget proposal fails children. It fails to make the critical investments needed to continue the expansion of high-quality early care and education programs. Thankfully, this is just the opening salvo in the budget battles, and Congress now has the opportunity to create a spending plan that will support families and children. Congress functions to hear from its constituents, and every member needs to hear from us. Children depend on the adults to ensure they get the strong start they need to succeed in school and life.
Ask yourself how you can stand up for Maryland's children.