In this week’s segment of “The Choice,” where we break down Pres. Barack Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s plans on early childhood education.
MR. MARTIN: It’s now time for our new segment, “The Choice,” where we break down Pres. Barack Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s plans on issues important to America, but especially Black America. Next month, we will look at their plans to improve America’s colleges and universities, but today, our focus is on early childhood education.
In a report released this week by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranked 28th out of 38 countries for the percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled in pre-primary education programs like Head Start. Folks, we’re behind France, Spain and Mexico. That is disgraceful for the richest nation on earth.
Now, Head Start, which began in 1965 as part of Pres. Johnson’s War on Poverty, is the main federal government program for early childhood education. There are over 900,000 children enrolled in Head Start programs nationwide. 35 percent are African-American, so once again, these so called “dependency programs” serve more Whites than Blacks. The cost: $7.2 billion dollars.
So, we want to put that in perspective. One, new aircraft carrier will cost us more than $9 billion. That’s right — $9 billion. Here’s what Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, told me last year about the importance of getting to our kids early.
[BEGIN VIDEO CLIP.]
MR. GEOFFREY CANADA: We need our parents to start, literally from birth, making sure they have proper diet, great healthcare, making sure we begin to talk to kids, we begin to start that serve-and-response that happens when those young brains, as those neural pathways get developed in young children’s lives. This is serious stuff.
[END OF VIDEO CLIP.]
MR. MARTIN: The idea behind Head Start and all early childhood education is this, according to an article written by early education expert Dr. Diana Rauner, quote: “…children who are exposed to more language and more caring interaction with adults have an advantage over their peers that grow up in stressful environments…” And:
“While most middle- and upper-income children have nurturing early experiences, children in poverty often live in chaotic environments…. This inequality in opportunity leads to the achievement gap that is evident as early as nine months of age and continues to inhibit students’ progress throughout elementary school and beyond.”
So, that’s the “why” of Head Start.
So, what are the choices Pres. Obama and Mitt Romney are making for the future of Head Start?
Well, we went to MittRomney.com and found this very impressive-looking white paper called, “A Chance for Every Child: Mitt Romney’s Plan for Restoring the Promise of American Education.” We searched its 35 pages, and we found not one mention of Head Start, early childhood education or pre-K. Let me say that again. Not one mention of Head Start, early childhood education or pre-K.
So we examined the budget proposed by his vice presidential nominee Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. The budget slashes federal spending, but does not detail where the cuts would come from, so we are left to make educated guesses. Now, here’s what the Ryan budge does to Head Start, according to the National Education Association, as reported last month in “The New York Times.”
■ Cuts $590 million from federal spending on Head Start.
■ Eliminates 80,000 slots for kids in Head Start, and
■ Cuts 30,000 jobs for teachers, aides and administrators.
Now, Republicans generally put Head Start in the category of the kind of “wasteful spending” on “unproven programs” that need to be reined in to cut the deficit.
Interestingly enough, the Obama Administration thinks the local entities that run the Head Start programs aren’t doing the best possible job. They are making many of these Head Start program operators re-compete for their grants. President Obama expanded Head Start in the 2009 stimulus bill by adding $2.1 billion more for Head Start, which added 61,000 new slots for kids to join the program.
We could not find what the President’s plans are for the future funding of Head Start, but we do know he opposes the cuts called for by the GOP.
Here to break down what will happen to children ages 3-5 in the Black community when the choice over Head Start is made are early childhood education experts Jane Hannaway, vice president of the American Institutes for Research, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank; and Courtney Snowden, a principal at the Raben Group, a progressive public policy firm based in Washington, D.C.
Certainly, welcome to the show.
MS. JANE HANNAWAY: Thank you.
MR. MARTIN: When you look at these stark choices, how do you assess the two candidates? Do you have faith that a Romney presidency will indeed support Head Start, as opposed to Pres. Obama being reelected in terms of who – who will be the best benefactor, if you will, for this important program?
MS. HANNAWAY: I – I think it’s important, Roland, to – to expand the conversation beyond Head Start.
MR. MARTIN: Um-hum?
MS. HANNAWAY: Head Start only serves a very small minority of kids in the United States. Most – yet, the majority of kids are in some sort of preschool program, most of them state and local programs.
I think one thing that the Obama Administration is doing beyond Head Start that is critically important is it’s having a “Race to the Top” competition for early learning, because, I think, the evidence is so clear that how well kids perform when they’re very young is a s- — extremely strong predictor of how well they’ll perform later.
Let me – let me give you one more statistic. We can explain half of the Black-White test score gap in twelfth grade by performance in kindergarten. That gives you some idea of how much – how important early learning is.
MR. MARTIN: Now –
MS. HANNAWAY: It carries through.
MR. MARTIN: — now, Courtney, you have Republicans who say, “Look. These programs simply don’t work. It’s wasteful spending.”
MS. COURTNEY SNOWDEN: You know, it’s funny that Republicans say that, because the Chamber of Commerce actually doesn’t say that. They recent r- — recently released a port, I – report, I think, just last year saying early education, early inv- — intervention is incredibly is incredilly [sic – phonetic] i- – incredibly important, and they’ve urged their affiliates to continue to outreach their state legislators and the federal government to strengthen early education programs.
Here’s what we know. Mitt Romney, when he was governor of the State of Massachusetts, vetoed an early education bill that would have created universal pre-K – [a]cross the board. He said it wasn’t proven. Early ed- — ‘We don’t know the impact of early k-“ – “education.”
But there’s universal research – everyone agrees, on both sides of the aisle, in ter- — from a research perspective – and many members of Congress strongly support – Republican members of Congress – strongly support early education. A Ryan-Romney presidency would eviscerate early education programs.
And Pres. Obama has a strong track record, in his years as President, of doing exactly the opposite – of increasing funding and supporting early education programs.
MR. MARTIN: You don’t hear much about this issue on the campaign trail.
MS. SNOWDEN: You don’t.
MR. MARTIN: And I will b- — I will be shocked to hear it actually come up in the debate. Explain to folks why this should be a part of the conversation, as opposed to the – the sort of general discussion about education.
MS. SNOWDEN: Yeah. Early education is critically important. What Jane said is absolutely right. What we know is that, if children have access to high-quality early education programs, they’re less likely to drop out. They perform better academically. They perform better socially. And, ultimately, this is m- — a really important statistic. The alumni of Head Start programs, when they become adults and join the workforce, they yield about $7 to $9 in the economy with their new job, rather than taking away from the economy or relying on federal programs that everyone continues to say are such a problem. These federal programs are critically important.
MR. MARTIN: Well, I certainly appreciate it; and, of course, we’ll keep focusing on it. And so if the candidates don’t, or s- — other journalists don’t, we’ll put the emphasis on this. I certainly appreciate it. Diane and Courtney, thanks a lot.
MS. HANNAWAY: Thank you so much.
MS. SNOWDEN: Thanks for having us.