President Obama has released details for his State of the Union proposal to provide high quality preschool for every child. It is a comprehensive early childhood agenda that incorporates an array of early childhood programs into a plan for improving quality and expanded access to preschool. Specifics include a federal-state partnership to provide high-quality preschool to low and moderate-income four year olds, with incentives to broaden participation to middle-class families. Quality benchmarks are included to ensure common and consistent standards. Additionally, states will be encouraged to expand the availability of full-day Kindergarten and investments will be made in Head Start to strengthen and expand services for children three years old and younger. An Early Head Start-Child Care partnership and home visiting expansion will ensure the building blocks to prepare the youngest children and incorporate parents into the early education solution.
This morning, while the President was traveling to promote his State of the Union agenda, he visited College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur, Georgia. College Heights is an early childhood program that includes Head Start, Early Head Start, state-funded prekindergarten (pre-K), and preschool special education programs. In highlighting the center as a partnership model for the nation, Obama said, “If you’re looking for a good bang for your education buck, this is it right here.” Furthermore, Georgia as a whole was the first state in the country to offer universal pre-K and is one of five states currently offering it. However, decreased funding and increased enrollment have taken a toll on quantity, quality and access in the forms of reduced schedules, large classrooms, long wait lists and the elimination of family resource coordinator positions.
The President’s early childhood plan points to economics and social science research that show how quality early childhood education leads to long-term success in school, work and society, including a high return on taxpayer investments. It further highlights disparities in early education opportunities for children. For vulnerable children, access to quality early education, including comprehensive supports to engage parents will prevent child maltreatment by strengthening and stabilizing families.
President Obama’s State of the Union address for 2013 focused on the American economy and specifically addressed many issues that directly affect children and families. He spoke of opening “the doors of opportunity to every child” and building “new ladders of opportunity into the middle class.” He proposed universal pre-Kindergarten (pre-K) education, because “the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.” He followed this with additional education reforms to incentivize expanded skills in high school education and improved college affordability and value in the Higher Education Act. He also made a strong call for gun control legislation to keep our children safe, declaring that his speech “matters little if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource, our children.”
For families, the President proposed raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation, stating that “in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty.” He discussed removing financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples and doing more to encourage responsible fatherhood. He also talked about immigration reform and extreme poverty internationally that would keep families together and promote well-being across the world. In addition to several specific ideas for creating jobs, he made clear that budget negotiations must not cut health care, education or public safety. He asserted, “we can’t just cut our way to prosperity.” Other mentions of the Violence Against Women Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act and voting reform are additional aspects of the agenda that would touch the lives of vulnerable children and families.
The President made clear that the democratic process is not easy or automatic. After admiring several heroic citizens for boldly putting others before themselves, he concluded the speech by calling on all Americans to view our citizenship as an obligation to one another and future generations. He seemed to be not only proposing reforms to “re-ignite” the middle-class, but also calling all of us to action both directly by helping vulnerable neighbors and by holding federal leaders accountable for making needed progress.
The Center for American Progress hosted a briefing yesterday on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ LaDonna Pavetti opened the event with a data-informed overview of TANF’s performance since its creation in 1996 welfare reform. She was followed by a panel moderated by Georgetown University Law Center’s Peter Edelman and including Drexel University’s Mariana Chilton, Witnesses to Hungers’ Shearine McGhee, Minnesota Department of Human Services’ Deborah Schlick, and University of Michigan’s Kristin Seefeldt.
Pavetti’s introduction revealed that TANF cash assistance is currently accessed by far fewer families in poverty than before welfare reform. Not only does it reach fewer families in need, but the amount is insufficient for the few families who do receive it. Additionally, funding for TANF’s work program is crowded out by competing programs of work supports and other social services. From various perspectives ranging from direct personal experience to program administration and quantitative and qualitative research, the panelists discussed how TANF is used and restricted for people needing the program. It is well worth watching to understand the current challenges of providing welfare from both a systems and service delivery perspective. Concluding statements called for fixing the federal work participation process measure that drives state behavior, creating more access to on the job training like the recent Emergency Fund under the stimulus, and reorienting TANF as both an unemployment safety net and an assistance program that is responsive to people with extensive service needs.
Posted in Prevention
This week, child and family advocates and Congressional champions have been recognizing the 20th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA, P.L. 103-3). Yesterday, at a Capitol Hill reception, attendees celebrated that over 100 million people have made use of the FMLA to be legally protected for unpaid leave to care for newborns, a sick relative, or themselves. Today, FMLA discussions continued with a policy research briefing on needed next steps.
Hosted by the American Institute for Research and Zero to Three, the briefing speakers included Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), NPR’s Ron Elving, Co-authors of Time Off with Baby Susan Muenchow and Chris Ruhm, Zero to Three’s Matthew Melmed, and the National Partnership for Women and Families’ Vicki Shabo. Amongst recommendations to modernize and expand FMLA, paid leave surfaced as the most pressing. While research shows that FMLA has enabled people to take more time to balance the competing priorities of work and family, its been found that less educated and lower paid workers are the least likely to make use of FMLA’s leave protections. In California, paid leave has shifted the pattern of users to benefit more low-income workers, revealing that this feature would make the federal law accessible to more vulnerable families.