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Sequester Impacts Early Childhood Education

By Conrad Lotze
VP & Dean, School of Education at American Public University

The U.S. federal budget sequestration began on March 1 as part of the austerity fiscal policy enacted by the 2011 Budget Control Act. The sequester has drastically limited across-the-board government programs throughout the country, including early childhood education.

Particularly hard hit is Head Start, the federal program that aids low-income preschool children. Estimates vary, but some say that as many as 70,000 fewer children may be served nationwide as a result of the cuts.

It’s my belief that Congress has the ability to undo the damage caused by the sequester by repealing all or parts of the 2011 Budget Control Act and restoring funding so children have access to the early childhood education they deserve. We’ve seen it happen already when Congress restored funding for the Federal Aviation Administration following public outcry about flight delays.

Why can’t we press Congress to do the same for early childhood education?

It’s a shame that Congress continues to play politics with the funding needed by proven programs such as Head Start. I echo the sentiments of Sean Reardon in his New York Times editorial, “No Rich Child Left Behind.” If those with the means continue to invest in early childhood educational experiences while those without must rely on government programs that are under attack, then the gap in achievement between rich and poor will likely only continue to grow.

Although the politics of sequestration are complex, it’s important that as educational professionals we continue to stay informed about issues affecting educational funding for our children. Here are some helpful articles and issues to consider:

What Led to Sequestration?
First, it’s important to understand the background issues that led to sequestration in hopes that a compromise can be achieved in the future. Mother Jones provides an excellent overview about the parameters of the 2013 budget cuts in Kevin Drum’s article, “The Sequester, Explained.”

Impact on Education
The issue of the deficit and cost reductions has far-reaching impacts on our nation’s education programs. According to Sen. Tom Harkin’s report, “Under Threat: Sequestration’s Impact on Nondefense Jobs and Services,” the U.S. Department of Education is being forced to make dramatic budget cuts that will incur the following:

“States and local communities would lose $2.7 billion in Federal funding for just three critical education programs alone – Title I, special education State grants, and Head Start – that serve a combined 30.7 million children. Nationwide, these cuts would force 46,349 employees to either lose their jobs or rely on cash-strapped States and localities to pick up their salaries instead.”

The National Education Association—the largest teacher’s union in the country—is equally concerned that “preschools will be hit hard,” according to the online post, “Early childhood education already feeling sequester cuts,” by Colleen Flaherty. In the article, Flaherty cites a passage from President Obama’s State of the Union speech regarding early childhood education:

“Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than three in ten 4 year olds are enrolled in a high quality preschool program. Studies show students [who attend preschool] grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own. We know this works. So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.”

What’s Happening in Your State?
Not sure how schools and educational programs in your state are being affected? Check out this insightful website hosted by the National Association of Elementary School Principals that contains links to sequestration budget shortfalls per state.

About the Author:
Dr. Conrad Lotze possesses many years of educational leadership and teaching experience from a variety of academic positions. Conrad holds a B.S. in Mathematics from the College of William and Mary, an MA in Mathematics Education from West Virginia University, and a PhD in Mathematics Education from American University.

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