November 20, 2013
New Legislation Emphasizes Importance of Early Learning
LDA signed on as an initial supporter for the recent introduction of the Strong Start for America's Children Act, sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and eleven Senate co-sponsors. Similar legislation also was introduced in the House by Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Richard Hanna (R-NY). These bills would expand access to high-quality preschool for four-year olds from low- and moderate-income families and high-quality infant and toddler care.
States could use funds to serve four-year-olds whose families have incomes at or below 200 percent of poverty. Once a state or locality makes pre-kindergarten available to all eligible four-year-olds whose families choose to participate, federal funds could then also be used to serve three-year-olds in families with incomes at or below 200 percent of poverty.
Programs could be delivered through schools or community-based providers such as Head Start or child care. Those providers must meet certain standards, including:
- Teachers with bachelor's degrees and demonstrated competency in early childhood education.
- Maximum class sizes and child-staff ratios that are "evidence-based" in the House version and in the Senate bill are specified as maximum classes of 20 and child-staff ratios of 10:1.
- A full-school-day schedule.
- Evidence-based curricula and learning environments aligned with the state’s early learning and development standards.
- Teacher salaries comparable to those of K-12 teachers.
- Professional development for all staff.
- Ongoing monitoring and program evaluation for continuous improvement.
- Health and safety standards.
- Comprehensive services, including healthy meals and snacks and nutrition education; screenings, referrals, and assistance with accessing services for vision, dental, health, and development; family engagement opportunities; and physical activity programs.
After meeting certain requirements, states would receive funds based on their population of four-year-olds from families with incomes at or below 200 percent of poverty. Up to 20 percent of funds could be used in the first four years to improve quality, including providing scholarships to help teachers receive bachelor’s degrees. States not yet having met requirements could compete for Pre-kindergarten Development Grants to increase their capacity and build infrastructure to offer high-quality pre-kindergarten programs.
Federal funds would be matched by states at a rate equal to 10 percent of federal funding in the first and second years, 20 percent in Year Three, 30 percent in the fourth year, 40 percent in the fifth year, 50 percent in Year Six, 75 percent in the seventh year, and 100 percent in the eighth and subsequent years. A reduced match rate would be available to states serving at least half their eligible four-year-olds. Up to 10 percent of pre-kindergarten funding already being provided by the state when the legislation is enacted could count toward the state match.
To meet the needs of infants and toddlers, up to 15 percent of funds could be used for high-quality early care and education for families with incomes at or below 200 percent of poverty. Funds could be used for providers serving infants and toddlers through full-day, full-year care or otherwise address the needs of working families and that meet high-quality standards.
Grants also would be provided to Early Head Start agencies to partner with center-based and family child care providers. These grants would be focused particularly on partnerships serving children receiving assistance through the Child Care and Development Block Grant and that aim to meet Early Head Start standards to increase the quality and capacity of providers serving children through age three.
Finally, the legislation expresses support for continuing to provide resources for voluntary home visits by nurses and social workers to at-risk families. Home visiting helps promote maternal and child health, improve school readiness, prevent child abuse and neglect, and coordinate resources and supports for families.
LDA Leads 'Safer Chemicals' Efforts
On October 29, nine LDA leaders from around the country joined more than 200 parents, children, nurses, doctors and educators at a press conference and rally for safer chemicals on Capitol Hill. The Safer Chemicals Healthy Families (SCHF) campaign organized the “Stroller Brigade” to urge Congress to pass a strong law to protect the public from toxic chemicals. Media coverage of the event included CBS News, Fox News and the Washington Post.
Following the rally, participants broke into groups by state to conduct more than 80 meetings with members of Congress and their staff members. One purpose of the rally and meetings was to emphasize that the new bill, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act which is currently under Senate consideration, fails to adequately protect children’s health from toxic chemical exposures and would actually create barriers to assessing chemicals. Senators from both parties are working to revise the proposal and have requested input from LDA and partner organizations in the SCHF coalition.
LDA advocates asked their Senators to ensure the new bill explicitly protects pregnant women and children from toxic chemicals. Beginning in utero, children are particularly vulnerable to harm from even tiny doses of toxic chemicals, which can result in lasting problems with learning, behavior and development.
For photos and more information on the Stroller Brigade, see www.saferchemicals.org.
Comprehensive Report on Budget Cuts Released
NDD United, an alliance of 3,200 national, state and local organizations – including LDA – has just released the most comprehensive report to date on the impact of federal budget cuts on the American people. Faces of Austerity: How Budget Cuts Have Made Us Sicker, Poorer and Less Secure highlights the profound effects of sequestration – indiscriminate across-the-board cuts to discretionary federal funding – on health, education, job training, the environment and all sectors that affect people's daily lives.
NDD United represents the first time all non-defense discretionary sectors have joined together to fight for a balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes both sensible cuts and increased revenue. Discretionary funding for a particular program, for example the IDEA, means the House and Senate Appropriations Committees must annually vote to fund that program unlike entitlement programs such as Medicare for which funding is mandatory.
On the release of the NDD United report, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations Committee with jurisdiction over LDA's priority programs, stated: "From the Head Start student eager to go to school to the medical researcher on the cusp of a breakthrough, this report shows the real-life impact of the budget debate – a debate that touches the lives of so many Americans. And it explains in clear terms why we must find agreement on a balanced package of spending cuts and revenue increases to head off the sequester. Our economy is stronger when we invest in infrastructure, job training, and education programs. Our families are safer when we invest in public health and public safety. Our lives are better when we invest in life-saving research. I urge the budget conference to bring an end to sequestration because we cannot afford another year of these cuts.”
The Budget Control Act of 2011 established caps restricting how much Congress could allocate to discretionary programs each year over the next decade. As a result of that Act, by 2023 funding caps will result in $1.6 trillion in cuts from defense discretionary and NDD programs combined relative to the inflation-adjusted 2010 funding levels. Under sequestration, discretionary programs—including both defense and nondefense programs—will face more than $700 billion in cuts over the next eight years. Therefore, in two years if Congress does not act to replace sequestration with a more balanced, comprehensive deficit reduction strategy, NDD spending will equal a smaller percentage of the economy than any time in history.
Faces of Austerity is available online at www.nddunited.org.
What's Next on the Congressional Agenda
With only a few legislative days left in 2013 and possibly an early congressional adjournment in 2014 due to midterm elections, the 113th Congress has little time left to pass major legislation. In addition, the House and Senate seem to be traveling different paths regarding which legislation they are considering.
In June the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed the Strengthening America's Schools Act (S. 1094) to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently known as No Child Left Behind). That bill has yet to be considered by the full Senate. In contrast, the full House passed a very different ESEA reauthorization bill, the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) in July. It is unclear when the Senate will have a floor debate on S. 1094. However, even if that bill is considered and passes the Senate, a conference committee of House and Senate members would have to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills and each chamber would have to vote on that final version. This scenario appears much less likely as time moves on.
Another bill that currently is on hold is the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). Again the House passed its version, the SKILLS Act (H.R. 803), in March. On the other hand, the bipartisan Workforce Investment Act of 2013, passed by the Senate HELP Committee in July, still has not received floor action.
Now under consideration in the Senate HELP Committee is the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which deals with teacher training and professional development and student financial aid. However, the House Education and the Workforce Committee has chosen instead to begin discussion of the reauthorization of the Carl Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. Thus, the two chambers continue down different paths, making passage of any of these bills very difficult.
In addition, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is well past due for reauthorization. LDA staff has heard little if anything about when the committees might begin conversations on the IDEA.
Probably at least into early spring 2014 Congress will need to continue its major focus on the budget and the economy. Until then it is unlikely much authorizing legislation will be enacted. And the final urgency preventing legislative work is the looming midterm election in November 2014, which usually means more time for members in their home states and districts as they campaign for reelection.
Stay tuned for further updates from the LDA team.