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Give Kids a Head Start: Early Childhood Education and Real, Long-Term Stimulus

NOTE: Voting will likely occur on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (H.R. 11) and the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 12) today in the House. Please call your Representative and your Senators and voice support. Thanks!

We learned this morning that the jobless rate hit 7.2% — a 15-year high.  Ouch. 

Too much effort goes into short-term, band-aid solutions, while we fail to take a hard look at longer-term root issues. We have an opportunity in the upcoming stimulus package to rectify that by adding desperately needed funding to early childhood education programs like Head Start and Birth to Three.

Head Start is especially well-equipped to disburse received funds in communities across America.

Their community grant structure allows for newly deposited funding to go right back out to local businesses, structural repairs, new school initiatives — in short, more potential jobs.

But it is more than that: by involving parents in their children’s lives and seeing the advantages of education for their kids, parents also begin to recognize their own benefits from education.

Further, we get tangible, measurable benefits for children in these programs — benefits which are both intellectually and fiscally smart returns on the dollars spent:

– Our society receives nearly $9 in benefits for every $1 dollar invested in Head Start children, according to the preliminary results of a longitudinal study of more than 600 Head Start graduates in San Bernardino County, California (Meier, 2004). These projected benefits include increased earnings, employment, and family stability, and decreased welfare dependency, crime costs, grade repetition, and special education. In addition, Head Start has been shown to benefit participating children and society at large by reducing crime and its costs to crime victims (Fight Crime Invest In Kids, 2004; Garces, Thomas, and Currie, 2002).

– …Head Start children experience increased achievement test scores and favorable long-term effects in terms of less grade repetition and special education, and higher school graduation rates (Barnett, 2002; Ludwig and Miller, 2007)….

– Children attending Head Start have increased access to dental care and have higher immunizations rates than non-Head Start children do (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2005; Currie and Thomas, 1995).

Social safety-net programs are woefully underfunded, understaffed and chronically unsupported. I saw this constantly working with at risk kids, and it is heartbreaking to see a child who could be helped, but can’t get into an underfunded program with no more space.

The benefits that we see from investment in a child at an early age — better nutrition, developmental support for children with delays, childcare and preschool programs for young children whose parents are in job skills training programs…the list is endless. And often, especially with developmental delays, the earlier you start, the better your chance of success due to the malleability of the brain under the age of 5.

As the economy continues to tank, demand for early childhood education help is growing.

Programs like Head Start cannot wait for additional funding. They are already on the brink of collapse, having to deal with funding scarcity and the weight of unfunded mandates. The Obama campaign made early childhood education a signature issue during the campaign. It’s time Congress stepped up to the plate and made that a reality. But they won’t do so without all of us demanding it. So, let’s get to work…

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com