Category Archives: People

Pre-KNation Summit in New York City

On Tuesday, August 5, New York City became the site for a “Preschool Nation Summit.” The summit, the first one, was a bicoastal event broadcast through a webinar presented by Scholastic Inc based in New York City. The nation’s largest city was an appropriate setting since Mayor Bill de Blasio ran on a campaign that included a proposal to expand universal preschool in the city.

Mayor de Blasio’s opened the event with keynote remarks that discussed his support and belief that providing universal preschool is vital to addressing a range of issues including poverty. He recounted his recent visits to some of the city’s preschool programs and what they were accomplishing and discussed the experiences of his own children and how they were helped by effective programs. As far as New York City, the Mayor said that the just completed school year resulted in 20,000 children enrolled in full-day Pre-K and that this coming September that figure will increase to 50,000. He also said more would be needed because they estimated the need to be approximately 70,000.

The opening panel focused on the current status of programs across the country and how effective models are being put together and how state and local programs are leveraging funds. That panel included comments by Carmen Fariña, New York City Education Chancellor, Kris Perry, the First Five Years Fund, Celia C. Ayala, Los Angeles Universal Preschool, Steve Barnett, National Institute for Early Education Research, Aaron Lieberman, Acelero Learning; CEO, Shine Early Learning.

Their presentation was followed by a discussion of pre-k’s relevance to a cross-section of key
stakeholders including law enforcement, businesses and the military. The discussion included comments by Rob Dugger, Co-Chair of the ReadyNation Advisory Board, Frank Fowler, Syracuse Chief of Police a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, Major General Mike Hall (ret.) and member of Mission:Readiness and Suzanne Immerman, Senior Advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Explaining Mission Readiness’s reason for being involved in this issue, Major General Hall indicated that 75 percent of youth aged 17 to 24 could not enter the military due to being poorly educated, having health care issues or having a serious criminal record.

The final panel focused on advocacy and strategies to increase the support and implementation of preschool programs nationally. This group included Patti Miller, Too Small To Fail, Adrián Pedroza, Partnership for Community Action and member of President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, Helen Blank, National Women’s Law Center and Albert Wat, the National Governors Association. Participants were urged to raise the issue during the upcoming elections and that members of Congress need to hear about the importance of expanded access to universal preschool.

For additional information on the event go to Preschool Nation Summit 2014.

Congress Fails To Act On Unaccompanied Minors

Despite all the recent focus on unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border, the Congress left for a five week break being nowhere near a consensus on how to deal with the crisis. The President who had been the subject of criticism earlier this spring for not requesting greater funding to address the growing numbers of children, was also the subject of some departing congressional criticism for asking for too much funding. In the end, the House reduced their funding even more than last week’s initial proposal, pulled a vote on that package on Thursday afternoon and then passed a slightly higher costing proposal on Friday after the Senate had left for the break. The Senate couldn’t get enough votes to break a filibuster on their package and they failed to pass a bill and by week’s end the President was still contemplating what he could or would do without Congress.

The President has requested $3.7 billion to be spread across HHS, the State Department and Homeland Security. He indicated some openness to amending a 2008 change that was made to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) which allowed for greater deliberation for unaccompanied minors coming here (as long as they were not coming from Mexico or Canada) but a large number of Democrats in both the Senate and House have objected to such a change.

At the direction of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), a working group of Republican House members crafted their own proposal that was set at a total of $1.5 billion and would designate much of the funding for border patrol, and the National Guard and direct quicker deportation of the children. By Thursday that funding had been reduced to approximately $650 million but late Thursday afternoon the House leadership pulled the bill because they didn’t have enough Republican members who would support it. The leadership issued a statement through Speaker Boehner’s office that said in part, “There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action…” The statement seemed to run counter to a law suit filed a day earlier that charges the President has acted independent of congressional authority. The statement was criticized by both the White House and some conservative critics of the President. The reaction to the postponed vote delayed the House departure until Friday because many members wanted evidence that they at least voted for something. By Friday morning the package had inched up to $694 million with added money for governors to use the National Guard. They also had a vote to restrict the President’s executive authority in regard to immigrant status and issues.

On the Senate side, the progress was just as slow. Senate Democrats couldn’t break a filibuster over their legislation. The Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) had been guiding a $2.7 billion bill that would not amend the 2008 changes to the TVPA. It would also cover funding for services through the end of the calendar year meaning it would cover parts of FY 2014 and 2015. To pass the bill would require 60 votes and some Republican support. Debate stopped when a procedural vote failed by a vote of 50 to 44. An additional part of the Senate debate was the efforts of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) who had been working with House Republicans to work for a repeal of President Obama’s 2012 executive order that offered some protections to immigrant students who had been brought into the United States at a younger age (similar to the “Dream Act”). Although critics of the President had been arguing that that 2012 order had caused the surge in immigrants, recent debate has now focused on the 2008 changes to the TVPA instead.

Congress is gone until September 8. The President is likely to move funding from other government programs if funding runs out before the Congress returns.

Funding to Address Unaccompanied Minors Crisis May Wait Until Fall Session

Congress will likely make this week their last week before they leave for the August break and that will happen regardless of the unaccompanied minor issue. Going into this week there are three general proposals: the President’s, the Senate’s and the House’s. It seems certain that none of them can garner enough votes to get through both houses and to the President for his signature. The House proposal was changing even more as members were leaving for the weekend.

The President has requested $3.7 billion to be spread across HHS, the State Department and Homeland Security. He indicated some openness to amending a 2008 amendment to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) which allowed for greater deliberation for unaccompanied minors coming here (as long as they were not coming from Mexico or Canada).

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) immediately rejected the President’s request and assigned a working group of Republican House members to craft their own proposal. That proposal was unveiled on Wednesday, July 23, at a total of $1.5 billion and would designate much of the funding for border patrol, and the National Guard and direct quicker deportation of the children. It would also require spending cuts in other areas of the budget instead of designating the spending as an emergency. It was unclear however whether there are enough Republican votes to pass the proposal with some members of the House Republican caucus feeling the proposal was not tough enough. As a result a new proposal spending less than $1 billion was gaining support among Republican House members. It would likely change some current immigration law including a repeal of the 2008 changes to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). There could also be a separate attempt to overcome the President’s 2012 executive order that implemented parts of the “DREAM Act” legislation that extends legal protection to some youth brought here at a young age and now successfully attending school or enrolling in the military.

The Senate, acting through the Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) proposed $2.7 billion in funding and it would not amend the 2008 changes to the TVPA. It would also seek to target funding for services through the end of the calendar year meaning it would cover parts of FY 2014 and 2015. It would be subject to a filibuster however and that means at least some Republican votes would be needed. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has been working with House Republicans to work for a repeal of President Obama’s 2012 executive order that offered some protections to immigrant students who had been brought into the United States at a younger age (similar to the “Dream Act”). Although critics of the President had been arguing that 2012 order had caused the surge in immigrants, recent debate has now focused on the 2008 changes to the TVPA instead.

Congress is also confronted with several other pressing issues this week including an extension of highway funding, reaching a bipartisan reform on the Veterans Administration as well as overall appropriations. They could all be put off until September but that creates a long list for a Congress that will be desperate to leave for the 2014 election.

Unaccompanied Minors Captures Attention, Both Financial and Political

The increasing numbers of children coming across the U.S. border alone and without an adult is gathering much more attention within the federal budget and now within the political arena. Referred to as unaccompanied minors, these young people and children cross over the border in an effort to escape events in their own countries and frequently come here without a family or destinations. The projected number for this year is 60,000 children and is dramatically higher than the 13,000 in FY 2012 and much higher than the average of 6800 a year between 2004 through 2011. Under pressure from appropriators, especially the Senate Appropriations Chair, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the Administration has raised its original budget request of less than $900 million to more than $2.2 billion for FY 2015. In January appropriators had increased funding by nearly $500 million. The additional increase for FY 2015 will place greater pressure on the overall Labor-HHS-Education budget. The increased numbers is leading some Republican members of Congress to blame the problem on the Administration’s enforcement of immigration policy.

Most of the unaccompanied children are coming from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras through Mexico. A report last year by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Mission to Central America: Flight of Unaccompanied Children to the United States, documented the challenges and problems these young people face both in their native country and here in the United States. The report also describes the dangers of making the trip to the US alone with no adult support or supervision. In fact the trip usually involves exploitation, trafficking in labor and sex and violence. The report by the Bishops’ Mission sought to determine why there is such a dramatic increase in the flow of vulnerable youth, what should be done in regard to international policy and what should happen to these youth once they are in the United States. Based on their surveys, interviews and observations the report indicates that there is no simple answer but instead a number of interrelated factors, what they labeled the “perfect storm” of a number of problems including: the absence of economic opportunity, the lack of quality education and access to education generally and the resulting inability for individuals to financially support themselves and their families in their home communities, and the desire to reunify with family in the United States. An additional significant factor is the increased violence including gang violence and coercion within parts of the countries most affected.

Critics claim that immigration enforcement is encouraging children to make the trip while others counter that lack of progress on immigration legislation is the key factor. The President announced last Monday the creation of a working group to respond to the challenge with Cecilia Muñoz, White House Director of Domestic Policy announcing the initiative with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and the Federal Emergency Management Agency taking the lead in coordinating transportation, housing, basic care and medical treatment for the children crossing the border each week. The funding request was a result of overtures by Mikulski with the funding flowing through the Office of Refugee Assistance in HHS. Many of the children are being housed on air force bases and in group homes contracted by the government.

The Report by the Bishops included recommendations that the best interest of the child standard should be applied in legal proceedings, the Department of Homeland Security should conduct child-appropriate credible fear screenings that include questions related to gang related activity, and having child welfare experts assisting the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in screening children who arrive at the US/Mexico border.