NPR logo Despite Benefits, Early Education Faces Cuts Nationwide


Despite Benefits, Early Education Faces Cuts Nationwide

OLYMPIA, Wash.- There is a lot of talk these days in Congress and state legislatures about cutting spending. One issue that's received little attention is the effect of budget cuts on early childhood learning. The research proves the benefits of pre-K and Head Start programs. But they face cuts anyway.


At Sound to Harbor Head Start in Olympia the children follow a daily routine. They eat a healthy meal. They brush their teeth. Then they get to their letters and numbers.

Beth Schillings is the director here. She says that cognitive skills are only part of the goal.

Beth Schillings: "They're learning social skills, they're learning how to get along with their friends."

The research on early learning is well established. And the experts all agree.

Joel Ryan: "If you don't start kids off on the right foot, you end up paying for that years later."

Sandy Nelson: "A higher percentage of them graduate from high school, which means they are able to get better paying jobs, they contribute to our tax base."

Laura Wells: "The children who were left out of the preschool, the high quality preschool, were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime as adults."

That was Joel Ryan who directs early learning assistance programs in Washington. Sandy Nelson runs early learning programs in three Washington counties. Laura Wells directs the state group, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

These advocates agree on something else, budget cuts to early learning proposed in Congress and the state legislature will have a big impact on Washington children down the road.

Washington governor Chris Gregoire's budget includes a 10 percent cut to the state's Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program.

Republicans in the U.S. House want to go even further to cut Head Start across the nation by 22 percent. Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, says the U.S. can no longer fall in to more debt.

John Boehner: "We're broke, let's be honest with ourselves, it's time for Washington to get serious, and that's exactly what the American people expect of us."

Sandy Nelson's early learning programs work with children in Grays Harbor, Mason, and Thurston counties. She says rural areas in particular would lose entire classrooms.

Sandy Nelson: "123 children who currently have services now, would not get those services. It's a loss of 7 classrooms. We have small Head Start and ECEAP centers because most of our counties are rural so we would probably have whole communities that would lose completely. We would lose around 34 staff."

Advocates of Head Start say cutting these programs now will cost the state more money later. That's according to Joel Ryan, the state director of Head Start and the state's ECEAP.

Joel Ryan: "And for some of those kids it may mean school failure and for some of these kids it may even mean that there might be a jail cell waiting for them."

Democrats in the Washington legislature appear sympathetic to that point of view. Ruth Kagi chairs the Early Learning and Family Planning Committee in Washington's House of Representatives. Kagi says that even in the midst of budget cuts she is committed to preserving the ECEAP program.

Ruth Kagi: "We have already passed two budgets to make corrections in our current biennium and we did not cut any slots for early childhood education in those two budgets, and I do not believe that we will in the final budget."

Away from budget negotiations in Olympia and Washington D.C, parents of young children are hoping for the best. John McClure's son, Justin, was in an ECEAP program last year near Spokane. McClure is a disabled veteran and does not have much money to pay for preschool on his own. Now in Kindergarten, Justin loves school.

John McClure: "Now my son wakes up, Justin wakes up every morning now and says is it a school day Dad, can we go to school? Ya, ya, you can go to school."

McClure hopes state-proposed budget cuts will not prevent his four-year old daughter from being a part of the program next year.

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