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Obama Calls for Universal Preschool in State of the Union Even as Program Faces Sequestration

The National Head Start Association, which is fearful of sequestration cuts to the tune of $424 million next month if Congress doesn’t pass a measure to reduce government spending and the federal deficit, agreed with President Obama’s call “for every child in America” to be able to attend preschool during his State of the Union Address.

Sequestration of $85 billion this year and $1 trillion over the next decade was triggered by the lack of an agreement to the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan last year and is set to go into effect on March 1 if Congress does not approve a new plan by then.

“Those of us who have dedicated our lives to providing early learning services to at-risk children agree wholeheartedly with the President’s view that all children can benefit from access to early education,” said Yasmina Vinci, NHSA’s executive director. “For nearly fifty years, Head Start/Early Head Start has served as a proven model for delivering quality early education.”

She added that the comprehensive Head Start model, that of combining essential social/emotional development with critical early learning skills and engaging families and communities in their children’s education, shows proven results. In Obama’s State of the Union on Tuesday, he cited statistics taken from a 2007 study that $7 dollars was added to the economy for every $1 dollar spent from the 1960s, when the federal program benefiting students from low-income families was implemented during the Johnson administration, through 1980s. This was due, the study concluded, to higher higher school graduation rates for Head Start students, more of these students earning college degrees and higher adult wages as a result. A 2004 study by the University of California at Los Angeles found that Head Start parents can also decrease Medicaid costs by $198 per family.

“As the plan for expanding access to early education develops, it is essential we get it right, especially in times of tight budgets. It would be a disservice to all children if we assume that interventions for young children are one-size fits all,” Vinci added. “With greater investment in the right interventions, we can prepare all children to succeed in school and life.”

Obama’s fiscal-year 2013 budget proposal called for more than $8 billion for Head Start, and the FY continuing resolution passed by Congress has the figure at $8.017 billion, according to the House Appropriations Committee report. The federal preschool program for students from low-income families that began under President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. Obama’s FY 2013 budget request represented a slight increase from the FY 2012 appropriation level of nearly $7.969 million. Sequestration would reduce the 2013 amount to $7.593 billion, on par with pre-2008 figures.

Head Start and Early Head Start serve approximately 962,000 children and families, but the National Women’s Law Center said sequestration will eliminate Head Start services for 70,000 children nationwide as well as child care for an additional 30,000 children.

The FY 2013 budget calls for continued support for high-quality early education programs, even as Obama announced in November steps to improve the quality of service and accountability at Head Start centers nationwide. Obama’s budget claimed that increasing federal investments in high quality early education is a key part of a broader education agenda that will strengthen the nation’s competiveness and help every child reach his or her potential.

Obama’s budget proposal also called for “maintaining the historic expansion undertaken in 2009–2010” and an additional $7 billion over the next 10 years to support low-income children with child care subsidies. The budget also supports what the administration called critical reforms to the Child Care Development Block Grant and provides an additional $300 million for states to improve child care quality, and ultimately help children succeed in school. The proposed budget includes increasing services for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

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