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Democrats, Independents Want Early-Childhood Funding, And Don’t Care Who Gets Credit


January 9, 2019
Christina Samuels
Education Week

A new poll from the First Five Years Fund finds that a majority of self-identified Democrats and political independents queried want to see more money invested in early-childhood programs, even if that boost in funding would be perceived as a win for the Trump administration.

Seventy-eight percent of Democrats and independents said they want to see more money for early-childhood programs even if it means the current presidential administration can take some credit for the increase. In contrast, 11 percent said it’s important that the administration not be given a chance to take credit for helping children and families, even if that means no additional money for early-childhood education. (Five percent were unsure, 5 percent said neither, and 1 percent said they shared both views equally.)

The national phone survey of 1,000 registered voters was conducted in November 2018. It  has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

The question is a new one for the advocacy organization, which since 2013 has released polls showing that additional public money for young children is supported by voters of all political persuasions. But the inquiry acknowledges today’s particularly polarized climate, said Sarah Rittling, the executive director of the fund. (Rittling is also former counsel to Republican lawmakers Lamar Alexander, a U.S. senator from Tennessee, and Michael Castle, a former Delaware governor and congressman.)

“We felt strongly about including it, and we weren’t sure about what we were going to get as a response,” Rittling said. But she said that findings show that this issue transcends even today’s sharp partisanship. Respondents are saying “if [more funding] gives this president a win, so be it—as long as we’re seeing some gains,” Rittling said.

When asked if “we” should be doing more, less, or are doing enough to ensure that kindergartners enter school “with the knowledge and skills they need to do their best in school,” 66 percent of respondents said more is needed, while 25 percent said that current efforts are enough, and 5 percent said less should be done.

Asked if federal funding from birth to age 5 should be increased, decreased or kept about the same, 55 percent of respondents wanted to see more spending, 29 percent said it should be kept about the same, and 12 percent said there should be a decrease.

Other research, including by research associate Erica Greenberg at the Urban Institute, has demonstrated that there can be a political divide on early childhood, particularly at the national level. And the First Five Years Fund poll showed that the survey respondents showed stronger support for certain policies depending on their political party, even while overall support was strong.

For example, while a majority of self-identified Trump voters said they supported a number of different policy prescriptions for early childhoold, they gave their highest backing—79 percent—to the idea of providing tax incentives to businesses to help their employees afford high-quality programs. Ninety-one percent of voters for Hillary Clinton said they support that particular idea.

In contrast, 97 percent of Clinton voters said they want to see more federal funding to help states set up early-childhood programs, and more federal money for Head Start and Early Head Start. Trump voters still said they supported those proposals, but 64 percent were in favor of more federal funding flowing to states, and 62 percent were in favor of more money for Head Start.

Rittling said that early childhood is a large enough space that lawmakers, including the newly-elected governors, can find a way to make their mark.

“Hopefully some of that work that’s been done at the state level, building from the previous years, will provide a lot of opportunities and ideas to the federal level,” she said.