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Headlines About $1 Billion in Early-Ed. Spending Alternately Jubilant, Mournful

The early education news for the last week has been all about the money: who got it, who didn't, and whether or not anyone should have gotten it.

In case you missed it, President Barack Obama announced $1 billion in early-childhood education spending on Dec. 10. The bulk of that money will come from the federal government and is being distributed in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grants to Early Head Start, and in U.S. Department of Education grants to states hoping to create or expand public preschool programs. About $341 million of the new money is to come from private non-profits, corporations, and foundations.

Eighteen states won big Preschool Development Grants, and the headlines coming through my Google news alerts from those states were pretty jubilant:

  • City to get $2.85M from preschool-ed grant, proclaimed a headline on the website of my childhood local paper, The Lowell Sun. The article went on to report that¬†156¬†more children in Lowell will be able to attend preschool next year in the northeastern Massachusetts city thanks to the state's $60 million grant ($15 million in year one).
  • "Vermont has been on a roll when it comes to federal support for preschool," stated a story on Vermont Public Radio last week. The New England state, which serves about 90,000 public school students, won a $33 million preschool development grant ($7.2 million in year one) on top of an earlier $37 million Race To the Top Early Learning Challenge grant.
  • "Parents and students will now have better ways to learn thanks to a new grant that will help close District 205's achievement gap," was the optimistic lead of an article on 23 WIFR out of Rockford, Illinois. The story didn't state how much of Illinois' $80 million grant ($20 million in year one) Rockford is likely to receive.

Another 18 states applied, for Preschool Development Grants but didn't get anything. Those headlines are more of the pouty variety:

  • "Miss. Misses Out Again on Federal Preschool Money," read a headline in the Jackson Free Press. "We will continue to seek ways to build upon the state's early learning collaboratives because all children in our state deserve the opportunity to get a strong start in school and life," state Superintendent Carey Wright said in a statement cited in the article. Mississippi offered state money for preschool for the first time in March.
  • "Early childhood programs in Texas are hurting. Especially now that the programs will not be receiving the additional funding they need," stated a story on KTXS-12 out of Abilene, Texas. The state's current preschool program has high teacher-to-student ratios, which was one reason the U.S. Department of Education gave for declining to make the grant, according to the story.
  • "Missouri finishes last for federal preschool grants among nine bidders," bemoaned a Kansas City Star headline. The "nine" refers to the number of states with a very small or no state preschool program that applied for "development" grants, as opposed to the states with larger programs that applied for "expansion" grants.
  • And perhaps my favorite headline of the whole bunch comes from the Gaston Gazette in North Carolina: "Gaston kids snubbed by federal early childhood education grants." Nine Early Head Start providers in North Carolina did win grants, but "the closest childhood education center to get the money is based in Charlotte," the article states. Gaston County "will not receive a dime."

The opinionators haven't left the news alone either. Supporters of the idea that early education, especially for children from low-income families, is a good investment rallied behind the president's announcement:

Those that see thenew funding as yet another example of wasteful spending on a likely-to-fail entitlement by an interfering federal government didn't let the move pass unnoticed either:

  • Sarah DuPre took a shot at pop star Shakira, who has signed on as a member of the president's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, for her assertion during a Twitter chat with Arne Duncan that "numbers don't lie." Numbers can lie when used incorrectly, DuPre wrote, and in this case "Shakira takes the numbers dramatically out of context." DuPre's post appeared on the website of The American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.
  • Michelle Malkin's syndicated column didn't pull any punches about "Obama's preschool takeover," either. "
    Every one of these Big Babysitter boondoggles rests on "progressive" junk science. - See more at: http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141213/DM04/141219704/1279#sthash.rYLbNp6E.dpuf
    Every one of these Big Babysitter boondoggles rests on "progressive" junk science. - See more at: http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141213/DM04/141219704/1279#sthash.rYLbNp6E.dpuf
    Every one of these Big Babysitter boondoggles rests on 'progressive' junk science," she wrote in reference to past and present efforts to provide more federal funding for preschool.
  • Lindsey Burke, of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, wrote perhaps the best researched, though no less scathing, indictment of the new funding for The Daily Signal. For evidence that the feds should stay out of the preschool game, Burke turned to Head Start. "Head Start has had no long-term impact on the cognitive abilities of participating children, has failed to improve health, has failed to improve their behavior and emotional well-being, and has failed to improve the parenting practices of parents," Burke wrote, citing the 2012 Head Start Impact Study by the Department of Health and Human Services.
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