One of the wonders of early learning is a young child's ability to soak up hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of new words in the span of a few months. Who could've predicted one of those new words might be "sequester."
Yes, those deep, across-the-board federal spending cuts finally have hit, and their impact could be devastating to our kids if Congress and President Obama cannot reach a compromise this month to undo the sequester and adopt a "continuing resolution" (there's another term for your vocabulary, kids) to keep the federal government from shutting down. If the gridlock continues, it's going to take a harmful - and potentially irreversible - toll on our youngest Pennsylvanians.
About 2,300 commonwealth children will lose access to Head Start and Early Head Start services, depriving them of critical early learning opportunities they can never get back. Up to 1,800 disadvantaged Pennsylvania children could lose access to subsidized child care, impacting them and their working parents already struggling to make ends meet. Children with disabilities will lose hundreds of teachers and aides because of the loss of $21.4 million in education funding to Pennsylvania, and about 5,280 fewer commonwealth children will receive vaccinations against the flu, measles, mumps and other preventable diseases.
Let's look at the dire impact of just the cuts to early learning. Research shows high-quality pre-kindergarten helps improve the school readiness of young children by building their social, emotional and cognitive development. Three- and four-year-olds who benefit from Head Start and other publicly funded pre-k programs enter school better prepared to learn and achieve. They are less likely to be held back or need costly special education services, and they are more likely to graduate high school.
Take away funding for early learning, and you've robbed those children of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a solid foundation for success. And the price for that fiscal neglect doesn't just hit those children and their families. We all pay the price in the form of a less competitive workforce because we failed to invest in our greatest economic resource – our children.
Child care is another area that affects our workforce, even if it's not readily apparent. The child care funding impacted by the sequester helps working parents hold down steady jobs and contribute to the economy. High-quality child care ensures kids are in a safe, nurturing environment while their parents are on the job, allowing those parents to be more focused and productive. Research shows child care subsidies are one of the most effective economic supports for low-income families who are on the path to self-sufficiency. Parents receiving subsidy retain jobs longer and earn higher wages than those without it.
Cutting funding for early learning or child care not only sends us in the wrong direction, but it further erodes investments that already were lagging. In Pennsylvania, only about 1 in 6 three- and four-year-olds benefit from publicly funded pre-k, despite its proven benefits, and more than 6,500 children are on a waiting list for child care subsidy. With such unmet need, our elected officials should be discussing boosting investments in these areas. Instead, they are at a stalemate that has resulted in cuts to these programs.
President Obama and Congress need to act quickly to reverse these damaging cuts and ensure proven, cost-effective investments in early learning programs and other areas that benefit kids are protected and funding is preserved – or better yet, increased. Wasted time means wasted opportunities for Pennsylvania's kids.
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