Assessing the Presidential Candidates on Early Education

Voters in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, including we here at Early Ed Watch, go to the polls today to express their choices for the 2008 Democratic and Republican presidential nominations. So we thought this is a good time to look at what the candidates have proposed on the early education front.

Here’s the good news: We’re seeing some pretty ambitious proposals on early education from the Democrats in the field. Senator Hillary Clinton would provide funds to help states create universal pre-k programs for all 4-year-olds that meet high quality standards, starting at $5 billion and ramping up to $10 billion annually in five years. She would also increase funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant. Senator Barack Obama has pledged to invest $10 billion annually to help states create and implement comprehensive early learning systems to serve children from birth through age five, improve Head Start and childcare quality, and expand Early Head Start. He would also make the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit partially refundable for low-income families. And both candidates have some smart ideas about supporting work-life balance to help parents spend more time with their young children. Despite some differences, both candidates are proposing serious investments that could make a real difference for American children.

To Secure Public Support for Early Childhood Investments, Connect the Dots with K-12

We know that an aligned PK-3 approach is right in terms of policy--it's the best strategy to fight fade-out and maximize the long-term positive impact of early education investments, and it's how policymakers should be thinking as they design new state investments in early learning systems.

But polling data suggests that talking about early education in a way that links early childhood investments with K-12 schooling is also smart politics for early childhood advocates. Take a look at this presentation of public opinion data that pollster Christopher Blunt presented last week to the Invest in Kids Working Group. The data shows that the public has clearly gotten the message that children's early development is important. But, as Image 1 shows, when it comes to setting priorities for government action, voters place a much greater priority on improving K-12 education than in improving early childcare for 0-3's. Further, despite their belief in the importance of the 0-3 years for development, Image 2 shows voters think that public investments in improving children's learning will have the greatest impact if they focus on the elementary school years. Blunt also notes that voters fear new early childhood investments might compete for funding with K-12, undermining public education. [slideshow]

Closing a School, Opening a Door for PK-3

Just seven months into her tenure as Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), Michelle Rhee faces a major test over her plan to close 23 underenrolled public schools. After years of enrollment losses to charter school competition and families leaving the District for the suburbs, Washington, D.C. desperately needs to consolidate its school facilities to match capacity to enrollment. But parents and community-members strongly oppose closure of their neighborhood schools. [slideshow]

The case for school closures is typically made in economic terms: excess facilities are a financial drain on the District and underenrolled schools lack the resources to deliver quality educational programs. But school closure--and the resulting restructuring of remaining schools that absorb students, teachers, and in programs from closed buildings--also offers an important opportunity to catalyze reform.