Washington, D.C. — As students, parents, and teachers across the country prepare for another school year, an issue brief released today by the Center for American Progress finds that many of our nation’s youngest students—approximately 57,000 children—won’t be going back to school this year due to the mandatory budget cuts from sequestration. Specifically, these drastic cuts have slashed more than $400 million in Head Start program funds, shutting down classrooms and limiting high-quality learning opportunities for low-income families nationwide.
The Head Start program—which was founded in the 1960s to combat poverty—reaches nearly 1 million children across the country, the majority of whom live at or below the federal poverty level. Cuts to early childhood education such as Head Start, however, have left families scrambling to find alternative programs that offer both learning opportunities for children and safe, affordable child care for parents. In many cases, parents who have lost access to Head Start are forced to quit their jobs because child care costs far exceed what low-income families can pay.
“Head Start is oftentimes an essential program that prepares children for school and helps working families who are trying to keep afloat,” said Katie Hamm, Director of Early Childhood Policy at the Center for American Progress and author of the issue brief. “By arbitrarily cutting these programs, many families are forced into an impossible choice—choosing between substandard child care so that they can continue to work or quitting their jobs to provide their children the quality care they deserve.”
In addition to the immediate implications of Head Start cuts, the long-term ramifications also undermine sequestration’s intended effect. With a return on investment of $7 for every $1 invested, early childhood education is a long-term investment that pays for itself and prepares our nation’s future workforce for success. Furthermore, early childhood education such as Head Start is linked to improved academic performance, reduced need for special education and grade retention, a higher number of high school graduates, and, ultimately, higher wages. Yet because of sequestration, reduced services and shorter programs compromise the effectiveness of early childhood programs for some of America’s neediest children.
Cuts to Head Start not only impact the children and families who rely on the program, but early childhood educators have also been thrown into economic hardship due to job loss or salary cuts resulting from sequestration. Of the estimated 18,000 Head Start staff members who have either lost their jobs or seen a reduction in their salaries, a significant amount of these cuts have fallen on low-income women, who comprise the majority of the early childhood workforce. In a profession that is already notorious for high turnover rates due to low wages and lack of professional development and advancement, sequestration’s deep cuts have only further intensified job insecurity in the early childhood field.
Too many children do not receive the high-quality early childhood education needed to ready them for school and put them on a path to future success. Put simply, sequestration—including cuts to Head Start—is moving our country away from economic recovery. Rather than across-the-board cuts, Congress and the administration should focus on strategic investments, including those in early childhood education. By expanding access to high-quality early childhood programs, we can reduce poverty and prepare children for lifelong success.
Read the issue brief: Who’s Not Going Back to School? by Katie Hamm
Related resources from the Center for American Progress:
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