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With both Senate and House committees holding hearings on pre-k, the issue's gotten some attention this week, including able coverage from my Politics K12 colleagues. A few thoughts:
- Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White clearly and thoughtfully articulates the extremely complex and interdependent relationship between quality, access, and funding in any practical effort to improve early education at the state or local level. He also unpacks how fragmentation of multiple local, state, and federal funding streams further complicates these efforts. His testimony on this is well worth reading.
- While it's great fun for small government types to bemoan that the federal government supports some 45 different early childhood programs that spend at least $14 billion annually, it's a surprisingly unhelpful way of looking at the real problem of fragmentation that White raises. As noted in GAO testimony, 33 of these 45 programs are not actually focused on early childhood but merely allow funds from programs focused on other purposes (such as rural development or helping victims of domestic abuse) to support or facilitate early childhood services, and several other programs are quite small--eliminating or consolidating them would have little impact. The real issue here isnt' the number of federal early childhood programs, but the fragmentation and different quality standards between Head Start, CCDBG, and special education early childhood programs and policies and how they impact state, local, and provider efforts to cobble together adequate funding or integrate services to better serve kids.
- Speaking of which this chart produced by the House Committee on federal and state early childhood efforts is a striking example of how graphics and charts can muddy, rather than clarify, an issue.
- I have great respect for Russ Whitehurst and his testimony includes some good points, but I do no know how a person can review the research he does in his testimony and then conclude that the best federal policy course of action is to eliminate Head Start and transition federal funds for early childhood education into CCDBG--the one early childhood program we have some evidence may actually hurt children! Sure, Whitehurst says the federal government should take steps to improve parent information and reliability of CCDBG funds--but he's vague about how this would actually happen or how it would improve child outcomes.If we're making arguments based on magic unspecified policy changes that somehow make a program work better, why pick CCDBG over Head Start? Whitehurst also calls for what he calls an Early Learning Fmaily Grant modeled after the Pell program in higher ed. This is an interesting idea, largely because Pell, unlike early childhood subsidies, is a quasi-entitlement for eligible students--which has led to skyrocketing costs in the program over the past seven years. If Whitehurst wants to aim that kind of generosity at early childhood, I'm all for it, but let's be honest that this is hardly a more conservative option than other early childhood proposals.
- Fun random fact of the day: Children's Creative Learning Center, a subsidiary of Knowledge Universe Learning Group, which runs for-profit childcare centers serving more than 150,000 kids in the United States and whose CEO of early learning programs testified at the House hearing, has a contract to provide child care for the NSA.