Rare Joint Session Held on Report
Washington--The chief education committees of the House and Senate convened in a rare joint session last week to hear testimony on issues raised by a new study that calls for a far more intensive national effort to improve the educational environment of disadvantaged children.
The hearing of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee and the House Education and Labor Committee marked the first such session for the two committees in more than 20 years--a sign, members said, of the importance of the subject.
The panel members, who included some of the Congress's prominent champions of education, applauded the new report--"Children in Need: Investment Strategies for the Educationally Disadvantaged"--but they said it left two key questions unanswered: How much will the investment cost and who will pay?
Produced by the Committee for Economic Development, a research unit underwritten by major corporations, the report called for early, sustained intervention in the lives of disadvantaged children and their families to forestall later school problems. (See Education Week, Sept. 19, 1987.)
"There has not been a single voice raised in opposition to the findings of this report," said Representative Chester G. Atkins, Democrat of Massachusetts. He contended, however, that the recommendations could trigger a "shell game" on how the cost should be spread among the federal, state, and private sectors.
The report estimated that nearly 30 percent of the school population can be classified as educationally disadvantaged and that nearly a million young people a year fail to complete school.
To boost their success rate, it recommended prenatal and postnatal care for pregnant teens and "high risk" mothers; preschools for all disadvantaged 3- and 4-year olds; parent education and child-care programs, and greater community and parental involvement in the schools.
It also advocated changes in school structure and a wide range of programs in the areas of health, social services, and dropout prevention and reentry.
Nation Must Act
Owen B. Butler, retired chairman of the Procter & Gamble Company and current chairman of the c.e.d. research and policy committee that produced "Children in Need," was one of a number of education and business leaders who testified at last week's hearing.
Mr. Butler said it would be "economic foolishness and a crime against humanity" not to act on the problems the report outlined. The nation, he said, clearly possesses the knowledge to break the cycle of illiteracy and poverty.
David A. Hamburg, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and David P. Weikart, president of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation in Ypsilanti, Mich., cited research data that point to the potential success of the c.e.d.'s recommendations.
Although the report did not put a price tag on its proposals, Mr. Butler estimated that the preschool programs envisioned by the c.e.d. would cost the nation $11 billion a year.
Asked by Representative Robert Wise, Democrat of West Virginia, how lawmakers should proceed in light of the Congress-White House "imbroglio" on the budget deficit, Mr. Butler said, "It is not my place" to advise the Congress on whether to shift funds or raise taxes to support early interventions for disadvantaged children. "I just urge you to give it high priority," he said.
While the c.e.d. advocates increased federal funding to reach all children eligible for Head Start and Chapter 1 remedial aid, Mr. Butler said the bulk of the funding for early-childhood intervention should come from state and local governments, with support from business and industry.
'Downpayment' Said Needed
Irving B. Harris, president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund of Chicago, said legislators should not rule out raising taxes to finance the effort. "Compared to education, it's very unimportant that taxes be low," he said. Mr. Harris, who was an advisor to the subcommittee that prepared the ced report, is the founder of the Beethoven project, a five-year effort to provide child-care services from prenatal care through kindergarten.
Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, urged the Congress to act swiftly on the ced's recommendations, beginning with a "downpayment this year in the budget and appropriations process."
She recommended subtantial increases in funding for Chapter 1, Head Start, and the Women, Infants, and Children program. And she urged lawmakers to enact mandatory Medicaid coverage for mothers and children below the poverty line and demonstration programs providing "enriched child care" in varied settings.
Representative Augustus Hawkins, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said HR 5, the omnibus education bill passed by the House in April, incorporates many ideas promoted by the ced, including initiatives to expand preschool, parental-involvement, and dropout-prevention activities.
Senator Edward Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, also cited measures pending in the Senate that would benefit low-income infants and children, including "the comprehensive child development centers act," which would authorize $126 million over five years to fund centers offering health, education, and social services to high-risk mothers and children.
Senator Kennedy praised the c.e.d. report and called early intervention the key to "a future of good health, a good job and a strong voice in the democratic process."
Mr. Hawkins, who asked Mr. Butler to provide the panel with more detailed estimates of the cost of the c.e.d.'s proposals, predicted most would be funded, but probably in stages.
"Practically all the recommendations are acceptable to us," he said. "It's a question of what we can get out this session."