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The White House budget puts America’s young children last

February 26, 2018
W. Steven Barnett, Ph.D.
The Hill

For a businessman who has promised to make America great again, President Trump has produced a budget that fails miserably by dis-investing in children now while running up a debt they will have to pay later.

It may sound trite, but today’s young children truly are the only future America has. Yet one in four of our children under school age lives in poverty and nearly half live in low-income families. Helping their families invest in them is one of the highest pay-off investments we can make in America’s future. For example, my own research over several decades has shown that high-quality preschool programs can produce benefits many times their cost. But the administration’s budget ignores this, failing to make investments in Head Start needed to increase its effectiveness and cutting entirely the Preschool Development Grant (PDG) program that helps states make their early education programs more effective.

Last year, I coauthored a State(s) of Head Start report [], that revealed how inadequate federal funding forces local Head Start providers to choose between increasing effectiveness and cutting the numbers of children served even though the program already cannot reach most children in poverty. And the Office of Head Start [] recently postponed requiring programs to offer a longer day and year for 4-year-olds “because the program would need to cut 41,000 slots to make the change under current funding levels.” Yet the administration’s proposed increase in Head Start for FY 2019 fails to even keep pace with inflation.

Although it is a much more modest program than Head Start, 18 states rely on the federal Preschool Development Grant (PDG) program. PDG has been an effective federal-state partnership. For example, using federal PDG funding, Rhode Island doubled the number of children in high-quality state-funded preschool between 2014-2015 and 2015-2016. Alabama experienced a 56 percent increase in its high-quality preschool enrollment over the last year—75 percent of this increase in enrollment funded by federal PDG dollars. Yet the administration’s proposed budget eliminates the PDG program.