New York and Ohio: Early Education Caught Up in a Fiscal Crisis

March 21, 2011

Research by early childhood stakeholders in New York and Ohio finds that expanding pre-K has the potential to improve the supply of high-quality child care in those and other states. Our recent research has found that child care providers participating in state funded pre-K report receiving additional funding, technical assistance, and support that enables them to offer enhanced educational services. In addition, school-based pre-K directors report that they can offer working parents services that both meet their needs for care and their children’s educational needs.

Yet much has changed since the policy brief was finalized.  Both states have elected new governors and each is facing a fiscal crisis, the solution to which threatens early childhood education.

In New York, the governor’s budget proposes to maintain funding for its universal pre-K program at the 2010–11 level of $393 million with the full phase-in of the program statewide pushed back from 2013–14 to 2016–17. One state early childhood leader has reported that “Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget cuts education and healthcare, which is no surprise as they are the largest budget items.  Overall, his budget is not very good news for early childhood.  While UPK (the state’s universal pre-K program) is not slated for cuts (level funded), and afterschool programs took a small cut, child care is reduced to the level of state funds required for matching federal dollars, and early intervention and home visiting have been hit hard.”

In Ohio, the picture appears to be more dire. Governor Kasich campaigned on a platform of reducing state spending and eliminating “unnecessary regulation.” When he took office, the state had already reduced early childhood financing by $280 million. Current estimates indicate that an additional $100 million reduction is expected. As one early childhood leader in the Ohio recently said, “We are 8 billion in the hole. We are keeping our fingers crossed but we know early childhood will take a hit.”

Early childhood leaders in both states are deeply committed to ensuring the school readiness of young children. To date, both states’ pre-K initiatives have helped prepare thousands of children from low-income working families for success in and beyond school. However, pre-K funding is not an automatic part of state funding formulas, and questions now exist about the future direction of pre-K in New York and Ohio.

In 2011, factors that New York and Ohio stakeholders identify as key to the quality and supply of child care for low-income working families—including stability of funding and authorizing legislation— are now in jeopardy. That means that, political rhetoric aside, each state’s continued advancement in meeting school readiness goals is now uncertain.

Diane Schilder, Ed.D.

Senior Research Scientist

Education Development Center, Inc.

Selling our Children’s Birthright

March 4, 2011

Is Anybody Listening to Ben, David and Paul?

Anyone interested in our children’s future — and thus that of our nation — should be alarmed at the news coming from state houses and Capitol Hill these days. From Georgia to Iowa to Texas, governors are proposing to cut early childhood education in their efforts to reduce spending and the U.S. House of Representatives has proposed massive cuts to Head Start and education that will no doubt affect many young children and their families. Like Esau who sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew, these political leaders are choosing a small immediate gratification over much larger future rewards, thereby sacrificing our children’s future.  Previously I have written in this space why, when it comes to education, austerity is a false cure for what ails our economy.  In recent days, three of the most respected minds in the nation have also sounded their concern over looming cuts to education.

This week, Federal Reserve Chief Ben Bernanke urged state and local leaders not to short-change education as they address fiscal problems and zeroed in specifically on early childhood education. “Research increasingly has shown the benefits of early childhood education and efforts to promote the lifelong acquisition of skills for both individuals and the economy as a whole,” he said.

In recent days two of the nation’s preeminent columnists (from opposite sides of the political spectrum) added their voices to the call to spare education from the meat axe approach many politicians are taking to spending. David Brooks, the conservative columnist at The New York Times, said what many politicians have been unwilling to: “Trim from the old to invest in the young. We should adjust pension promises and reduce the amount of money spent on health care during the last months of life so we can preserve programs for those who are growing and learning the most. Brooks described governors’ cuts to education as “thoughtless and destructive” and said Republicans in Congress are excusing the elderly while imposing budget cuts that would send early childhood programs off a cliff.

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman sounded a similar message in his recent New York Times column titled “Leaving Children Behind.” He zeroed in on Texas where Governor Rick Perry has proposed cuts that would deny an estimated 100,000 at-risk kids access to state pre-K. Krugman points to the abysmal 61.5 percent high school graduation rate in Texas and asks, “What’s supposed to happen when today’s neglected children become tomorrow’s work force?”

I do not for a minute downplay the severity of the fiscal crisis confronting the nation. It is severe. However, it must be addressed in a way that preserves the prospect of our future prosperity.—and that means investing in early childhood education. Doing so requires brand of leadership that seems in short supply these days. During the dark days of 1776, Thomas Paine, the author of Common Sense saw the need to pen another pamphlet to encourage the populace to do the right thing in the face of dire threats to the republic. It was titled The American Crisis and in it, Paine wrote that it is surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country. Yet, he said, panics are capable of producing “as much good as hurt” because “the mind soon grows through them and acquires a firmer habit than before.” Let’s make sure that habit includes putting productive investments in children’s early education at the top of our list of priorities.

Steve Barnett,

Co-director, NIEER

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