Let’s Fill Those Empty Chairs

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington today, we are reminded that much work remains to be done to make sure every child has the opportunity to succeed in life.  Investing in early education is one way to make meaningful progress toward that goal.

Yet splashed across local news broadcasts last week were images of empty chairs sitting outside Head Start centers.  Each chair represented a child denied the chance at a strong start to his or her future due to the cuts imposed by sequestration.

According to new state-by-states estimates released by the Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 57,000 children are being cut from Head Start this year because of sequestration. That includes more than 51,000 fewer children in Head Start and nearly 6,000 fewer children, families, and pregnant women in Early Head Start.

If we continue to disinvest in our children and their futures, the harmful effects could last a lifetime. We need to get back on a path of smart investments in areas like early learning, which research has shown to be effective in improving school performance and putting students on the path to higher-paying jobs.  This is particularly true for low-income children, who often start kindergarten academically behind their peers by many months, though early education is valuable for middle-class families as well.

The President’s FY 2014 Budget proposes a fully-paid for initiative to make high quality preschool available to all four-year olds, the creation of new Early Head Start-Child Care partnerships, and the extension and expansion of evidence-based voluntary home visiting services.  Together, these investments will help provide children with a strong foundation for success in school and in life.

Martha B. Coven is Associate Director for Education, Income Maintenance, and Labor Programs

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