14 February 2008

Quality Early Education and Poverty

From the first article, from Education Week: Families up to 130% FPL are being allowed to register for head start if those at the 100% level are already being served by the program. This is interesting and exciting because it gives credence to "the missing class" - those children and families between 100-200% FPL who are still struggling but often excluded from programs because the earn too much.

This is important because these families are in dire need and have traditionally been excluded from conventional thinking on poverty and excluded from programs which serve only those below poverty.

From the second article, an editorial from USA Today: quality early experiences matter for all children. children in families below poverty are eligible for head start. affluent children generally have private day care. those in the middle - the missing class, again - are the ones falling through the cracks.

This is also important because in our discussions about economic downturns and budget crises, it is critical that we prioritize programs and ideas that not only benefit children today, but which are forward thinking, begin with the end in mind and yield a positive social and economic return in the future.

Head Start Group Decries Renewal's 'Broken Promises'

Just last month, Head Start supporters were celebrating the passage of a five-year reauthorization billRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader they say will strengthen the 43-year-old preschool program for poor children.

Now, the same advocates are lamenting what they're calling "broken promises" from the Bush administration over funding for the program, and saying they've been "saddled" with loads of new requirements in the reauthorization.

The $6.8 billion program, which serves close to 1 million children, is actually underfunded by $1 billion because spending on the program has remained flat for six years and its budget was cut by more $10 million in the fiscal 2008 appropriations bill that passed Congress in December, according to the National Head Start Association. The Alexandria, Va.-based advocacy group represents Head Start families and staff members of local programs.

"That is what put us on a path to real crisis," Ron Herndon, the chairman of the NHSA board, said during a telephone press conference last week.

The renewed Head Start law, signed by President Bush on Dec. 12, authorizes $7.35 billion in spending for fiscal 2008 and $7.65 billion in fiscal 2009, which begins Oct. 1. But when he signed the legislation, the president made clear he was not supporting such amounts.

"Approval of this legislation is not an endorsement of these funding levels or a commitment to request them," Mr. Bush said.

The reauthorized law also requires that more teachers in the program earn bachelor's degrees, strengthens accountability measures for grantees, and eliminates the controversial National Reporting System—a series of tests to track Head Start children's skills. ("Head Start Measure Expected to Launch New Era for Program," Nov. 28, 2007.)

Despite signing the bill, President Bush has also maintained his support for the assessment program.

The revised law raises family-income eligibility levels for Head Start, allowing children living in families earning up to 130 percent of the federal poverty level—or $26,800 for a family of four—to be enrolled if those at the 100 percent level are already being served.

Our view on Early education: Pre-K programs pay off

'Universal preschool' raises learning, lowers social costs.

Oklahoma enjoys a popular image as a state of wildcatters, hardscrabble farmers and rodeo riders. So it might come as something of a surprise to learn that national organizations rate the state as tops in the USA in — preschool.

Oklahoma offers "universal" preschool, which means that parents of all incomes have the option of sending their 4-year-olds to a state-sponsored preschool, transportation included. The state also insists that all preschool teachers hold bachelor's degrees, and they are paid the same as regular school teachers.

States have good reasons to aspire to universal preschool, especially high-quality programs with good teachers and low student-to-teacher ratios. Universal preschool can help fill a void: Poor families have access to Head Start. Well-to-do families pay for quality preschools out of their pockets. In between are lower-middle class families whose children badly need the readiness skills that preschool provides.

Oklahoma educators credit their decade-old preschool program with pushing up reading and math scores in the lower grades, and with raising achievement by low-income children.

Elite preschools — such as the experimental Perry Preschool in Michigan, where researchers followed the poor and minority children who attended that school well into adulthood — return more than $16 to society (in the form of lower crime and higher employment) for every dollar invested, according to the non-profit High/Scope Educational Research Foundation. Even decent-quality preschools produce gains in the $4 to $10 range, other researchers found.

States pay a price, however, for pushing too fast for universal systems.

Florida rushed its preschool system out the door with seemingly little attention to setting standards. Florida cosmetologists face stiffer licensing than preschool teachers, and preschool operators there are free to pursue a choose-your-own-curriculum policy.

Making Florida's preschool program more worrisome is the low funding. Among the 38 states that underwrite preschool, Florida ranks 35th. Universal preschool is a great idea that can turn bad when implementation outstrips the money.

Preschool classrooms with too many children and too few teachers have surprisingly high expulsion rates, researchers reported earlier this month. The ratio in preschools shouldn't rise above 10 students for each teacher, they recommended.

Most states are proceeding with appropriate caution. Virginia recently scaled back its ambitious universal preschool plans when its state budget veered toward deficit. Alabama set high standards for its preschool program but is starting slowly, fearful of compromising quality.

Several of the 2008 presidential candidates have embraced the concept of universal preschool, generally without providing much detail. States looking for an effective model can consult officials in Oklahoma. They did it Sooner.

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