The Senate Committee on Appropriations last week approved a $1.6 billion expansion of the federal Head Start program in response to President Obama's State-of-the-Union speech earlier this year that called for increased funding of national preschool education.
The Senate Subcommittee on Labor Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations on July 9 initially approved the FY 2014 funding increase through the Early Head Start – Child Care Partnerships to serve more infants and toddlers, and to maintain current Head Start and Early Head Start programs. The full committee approved the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education bill on Thursday to fund Head Start at more than $9.6 billion, which includes $1.4 billion more to expand Early Head Start, including the creation of new Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships to serve at-risk children and families from birth through age 3.
"With expanded financial commitment to the success of America's at-risk children, Washington will move America towards greater opportunity and a brighter economic future," commented Yasmina Vinci, NHSA's executive director.
But she added the federal sequester enacted earlier this year continues to "inflict very real and devastating pain. Retroactive to the beginning of the year, the federal Head Start program was cut by $400 million, or 5 percent. NHSA said these cuts to local agencies could reduce program services, including transportation for about 70,000 young children.
The Senate Committee also approved $750 million for preschool development grants according to Obama's "Preschool for All" proposal, which expands or creates high-quality preschools for 4-year-old children from low- and moderate-income families.
"What this bill does is give our next generation the greatest chance at success," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), the appropriations committee chair who introduced the legislation.
According to the First Five Years Fund, an advocate for early-childhood education for at-risk children and families with a focus on infants and toddlers, 90 percent of all physical brain growth occurs during those first years of a child's life. The early cognitive and character skills gained during those five years, adds the organization, provide the foundation for later success in school, career and life.
First Five also cited studies claiming that for every dollar spent on Head Start and early-childhood education, society reaps about 7 to 10 percent in economic, health and other benefits down the road, as well as reduced spending on welfare programs.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had yet to schedule the appropriations bill for a vote at this report. If it passes it then moves to the House, which has yet to mark up its own version. A Senate Committee press release stated, however, that the House allocation for its Labor and Health and Human Services bill is set at $121.8 billion, or 26 percent lower than the Senate level. If this funding level holds true for the House version of the Labor, HHS and Education, the Senate Committee estimated that 275,000 fewer children and their families would receive early childhood services through Head Start, including 125,000 fewer infants and toddlers in Early Head Start.