Obama Budget Targets Early Childhood Education

Getting more children in preschool is a White House priority, but is transportation to and from being forgotten?

A $1.5-billion increase to Head Start programs in President Obama’s FY 2016 budget would extend classroom time to a full school day and school year, which the National Head Start Association called a “historic milestone.” But what the increases to early childhood education might mean for transportation remain to be seen.

“By providing resources to ensure all Head Start children benefit from a full school day and full school year, the President is not only securing better outcomes for at-risk children, but supporting 880,000 working parents striving to secure a brighter future for their families,” said Yasmina Vinci, NHSA’s executive director.

Head Start consultant Nancy Netherland told STN that many programs reconfigured their operations following sequestration two years ago, and oftentimes transportation was eliminated as a result. She said the goal of increasing investments in preschool and Head Start is to drive up enrollment, but then parents will need transportation options more than ever, especially in rural and urban areas.

“If they really want to make it work, transportation has to be at the table,” she said. “Nobody wants to talk about it.”

Obama’s budget also calls for a 7-percent increase in spending over the budget levels he agreed to with Republicans four years ago to avoid another round of sequestration cuts this fall.

“We urge Congress and the President to address the sequester head on so, together, we can fortify the future of our nation’s most vulnerable children and families,” she added.

Also included in Obama’s proposal for early childhood education:

  • $75 billion for early childhood education through Pre-K for All, a 10-year proposal to develop and expand preschool offerings in states, including $750 million for the Preschool Development Grants program — a $500-million increase over the 2015 level;
  • $80 billion in increased funding for the Child Care Development Fund, along with an expansion of the child care tax credit to $3,000 per child, up from $1,000 to increase middle-class access to quality, affordable child care;
  • More than $1.5 billion in increased funding for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Head Start program and Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, aimed at helping programs extend the school day and year for low-income children who participate; and
  • $15 billion over the next 10 years to extend and expand evidence-based, voluntary home visiting programs that serve low-income children and their families.

First Five Years Fund called the proposed investments in Head Start and childhood education “a significant step in recognizing that early childhood education encompasses a continuum of programs and services from birth to age five.”

In all, Obama’s FY ’16 budget totals $399 trillion and also includes a six-year $478-billion public works infrastructure program for roads, bridges and transit systems that will be financed by taxes on overseas earnings. The bipartisan Building America’s Future Educational Fund lauded the plan. Yet other groups, such as the American Council of Engineering Companies, prefer an increase in the federal fuel tax and a transition to the vehicle-miles-traveled formula to pay for the upgrades.