Early-Childhood-Education Advocates Say President’s Budget Fails to Meet His Rhetoric

By Linda Jacobson — February 13, 2002 3 min read

In his State of the Union Address, President Bush said he wanted to improve Head Start and early-childhood-development programs. But advocates for such programs serving young children say they don’t see much evidence of that in the federal budget proposal the administration unveiled last week.

The president is recommending a 1.9 percent increase in spending for the Head Start preschool program for fiscal 2003, which would allow the program to maintain its current enrollment level of about 915,000 children.

But he is proposing no increase in child-care funding over the current fiscal year, and no additional money for the Early Learning Fund—a competitive-grant program that was meant to encourage improvements in the quality of early-childhood programs.

“We are obviously very pleased that the president and first lady have raised real attention and visibility to early-childhood education,” said Adele Robinson, the director of public policy and communications for the Washington-based National Association for the Education of Young Children. “But if we’re really going to be able to recruit and retain good teachers, to have quality programs, to have access for all the children, and to ensure that they are going to be ready for school, these are not going to be sufficient resources to get us there.”

On the issue of the Early Learning Fund, budget documents from the Department of Health and Human Services state that the administration intends to accomplish similar objectives through the new, $75 million Early Reading First program in the Department of Education and new literacy initiatives through Head Start.

For child care, Mr. Bush is recommending a total budget of $4.8 billion, which includes $2.1 billion in discretionary funds and $2.7 billion in mandatory funds for families on welfare. Those figures are the same as in the 2002 budget.

Without an increase in the Child Care and Development Fund, which provides child-care subsidies for low-income and working-poor families, thousands of families will end up losing their child-care benefits over the next few years, said Helen Blank, the director of the child-care and development division at the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington.

“These are meat-and-potato programs,” she said. “You have to pay attention to the core.”

After school programs won’t be receiving an increase, either.

But some public-policy analysts say that now is not the time for expanding programs.

“We already have dozens and dozens of programs,” said Krista Kafer, an education policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank. “An assessment of what works and what doesn’t work is the way to go.

The President’s Priorities

President Bush does propose some new programs reflecting his priorities. He is calling for a new grant program to help public and private organizations provide mentoring services for children whose parents are in prison. The administration proposes to spend $25 million, which would allow for 10 grants in the fiscal year that begins next Oct. 1.

In his comments on the proposed HHS budget, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson said that improving access to health care, especially for low-income working families, was one of the president’s highest priorities.

Included in the budget plan is a recommendation that states retain access to $3.2 billion in unspent money from the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, that was supposed to be returned to the U.S. Treasury by the end of fiscal 2003.

The administration is also requesting $20 million for a new Healthy Communities Initiative, which would focus on preventing new cases of diabetes, asthma, and obesity.

The president’s 2003 budget funds the Child Nutrition Programs at $11.3 billion, an increase of $596 million above 2002.

This budget increase covers an increase in participation and food inflation costs, as well as funds to provide for additional meals in child care and after school settings as authorized by the William F. Goodling Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act passed in 1998 by Congress.

The administration’s spending plan projects that the School Lunch Program will provide meals for an average of 28.4 million children each day, and the School Breakfast Program for 8.3 million children each day.

The total number of meals projected for 2003 in the School Lunch Program is 4.8 billion, an increase of 1.5 percent over the 2002 level.

A version of this article appeared in the February 13, 2002 edition of Education Week as Early-Childhood-Education Advocates Say President’s Budget Fails to Meet His Rhetoric