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Need Stimulus Spending Ideas? Think Early Childhood

From guest blogger Christina Samuels, on loan from her On Special Education blog:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan reminded states that stimulus funds can be used for early childhood programs when he joined representatives of an early-education think tank at a press conference today to talk about a report, The State of Preschool 2008.

The National Institute of Early Education Research noted that more than 1.1 million children attended state-funded preschool last year, an increase of 108,000 over 2007. State funding for pre-K rose to almost $4.6 billion, and 33 of the 38 states with state-funded programs increased enrollment.

However, 12 states provided no state-funded preschool in 2008, and the economy makes future funding uncertain; in most states, pre-K is an entirely discretionary expense, unlike funding for K-12 programs.

But Duncan said the stimulus offers an "unprecedented" opportunity to continue preschool investments, through the stabilization funds and increased funding of Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. "I firmly believe high quality early childhood programs is an economic stimulus package," he told the press, and said he would continue to use the bully pulpit to argue in favor of this investment.

Duncan also said that his department planned to break down silos between federal agencies: federal money for early childhood has also come through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which operates programs like Head Start. The relationship between the two agencies may have been "less than functional" historically, he said, but no caregiver worries about whether funding is coming from the Education Department or HHS—"we have to work together," he said.

Duncan and crew picked a good site to have the discussion: Washington D.C's Oyster-Adams Bilingual School is one of the top schools in the city, and counts among its students the daughter of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. The school has 273 students on a waiting list for its preschool programs, says principal Monica Liang-Aguirre.

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