Congress Hears Call for Action, House and Senate Hold Hearings on Early Learning

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House Education and the Workforce Committee Hearing:

“As we examine the current federal early childhood education and care system this morning, my Republican colleagues and I believe we should discuss opportunities to streamline the mountain of existing federal programs, reduce regulatory burdens, and improve transparency to make it easier for providers and parents to understand their options. And above all, we must work together to ensure these programs are serving disadvantaged families first, consistent with the original intent of the federal investment in early childhood programs.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee recently took steps toward these fundamental goals with legislation to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant. As you know, CCDBG provides funds to states to help low-income families access quality child care, and has been due for reauthorization for over a decade. The Senate bill, approved by the committee late last year, includes several commonsense provisions that will help empower parents and enhance coordination between CCDBG and other federal early care and development programs, such as Head Start. I believe this proposal provides a solid foundation to begin related discussions in this committee, and look forward to working with my colleagues on this initiative in the coming months.”

- Excerpt from House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman Kline (R-MN)

“Greater child care and early education investments at the federal, state, and local levels are needed because low-income, working parents lack access, can’t afford services, and don’t have enough good choices. The future of our nation depends on turning this around and providing high-quality early learning for all children”

- Excerpt from House Education and the Workforce Committee Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA)

On Wednesday, February 6, 2014, the House Education and the Workforce Committee, chaired by Congressman John Kline from Minnesota held a hearing on early childhood programs entitled “The Foundation for Success: Discussing Early Childhood Education and Care in America.”  The hearing featured a diverse witness list, including Ms. Kay E. Brown from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Dr. Russ Whitehurst from the Brookings Institution, Ms. Harriet Dichter from the Delaware Office of Early Learning, and Dr. Elanna S. Yalow, the Executive Director of Knowledge Universe Early Learning Programs.

The full hearing can be watched here: http://edworkforcehouse.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?clip_id=230

More information about the hearing, including the testimonies for all of the witness and additional items can be found here:

http://edworkforce.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=368759

After the opening statements from Chairman Kline and Ranking Member Miller, the witness presented their testimonies, starting off with Kay Brown and Russ Whitehurst, both of which emphasized their belief that the current early childhood system is far too complex, fragmented, and overlapping at times.

Ms. Brown stated that “Multiple agencies administer the federal investment in early learning and child care through multiple programs that sometimes have similar goals and are targeted to similar groups of children… the federal investment in these programs is fragmented [and] some of these programs overlap one another.”   In his testimony, Dr. Whitehurst added that “The question for me is not whether the federal government should support the learning and care of young children from economically disadvantaged homes and otherwise vulnerable status but how it should do so. The current system, a mishmash of 45 separate, incoherent, and largely ineffective programs, fails to serve the broader public and certainly is less than optimal for the children and families to which it is directed.”

Following Ms. Brown and Dr. Whitehurst, Dr. Yalow mentioned in her testimony that “This is an important and exciting time for early childhood education. Supported by research, there is a growing recognition of both the short and long-term benefits of high-quality early learning experiences on young children, including healthy brain development, school readiness, future success in school, as well as related positive economic and societal benefits.

With so much attention and focus on a child’s earliest years, it is critical that we get our policies right.  It is important that our investments focus on children who will benefit most; are fisccally responsible and sustainable; keep an eye towards possible adverse consequences of well-intentioned efforts; promote conintous program improvement and quality; recognize and respect that we cannot afford to displace the many qualified, expereinced, and dedicated teachers already serving our youngest citizens; and countinue to support and respect parental choice to meet the needs of individual children and families.”

After opening up for questions from some of the Committee members present, Harriet Dichter, Executive Director of the Delaware Office of Early Learning, presented her testimony.  Ms. Dichter mentioned that “The importance of the first years of life is critical- the experiences children have during this unique time set the stage for all aspects of development and learning. Because of the developmental significance of this time, the quality of early childhood programs for both children and families is essential to good outcomes.”

Following the testimony of all the witnesses, the Committee members pressed the witness on their statements, which focused on a variety of different aspects of early childhood programs including a discussion of whether or not the programs overlap and if that is necessary in some cases, what improving the quality of programs could and/or should entail, and what is the best way to reach the most vulnerable populations.

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Hearing:

The next day, Thursday, February 7th, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, chaired by Senator Harkin (D-IA) held a hearing entitled “Supporting Children and Families through Investments in High-Quality Early Education.”

The recording of the full hearing, testimonies, and additional documents can be found here:

http://www.help.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/?id=e5fb765e-5056-a032-52c8-f2185f378db1

For the Senate hearing, the witnesses included:

  • Dr. Hirokazu Yoshikawa , Courtney Sale Ross University Professor of Globalization Education at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, New York University, New York, NY
  • Mr. John White , State Superintendent for Louisiana Department of Education, Baton Rouge, LA
  • Ms. Danielle Ewen , Director of the Office of Early Childhood Education, District of Columbia Public Schools, Washington, DC
  • Ms. Charlotte M. Brantley , President and CEO of Clayton Early Learning, Denver, CO

Dr. Yoshkikawa provided a technical and in-depth testimony regarding the overwhelming benefits of quality early education programs and the positive effects on socio-emotional, language, literacy, and mathematical skills.  John White from the Louisiana Department of Education followed up by stating that “Often the debate over investing in early childhood education comes down to study against study, each claiming an absolute truth about the effectiveness of an initiative that spans hundreds of thousands of young lives in disparate settings. I think – and our state proves – that it’s time we get beyond this debate. Early education can be life changing for low-income children when it is done well, and when quality is sustained in the grades that follow. Done poorly, like anything else, its effects are limited. But done well, it is a potent arrow in the quivers of those fighting the effects of inequality and poverty.”

Ms. Ewen, who heads the DC Office of Early Childhood Education, while discussing the importance of layered funding models, stated that “With the blended model, we are able to provide high quality comprehensive services to many more children who can benefit, with the same level of grant funding. This has created a unified early childhood system where all children in our classrooms receive the same quality of programming regardless of whether the program is called Head Start or pre-kindergarten.”

Ms. Ewen added that “For DCPS, implementation of the Act[Pre-K Enactment and Expansion Act, 2008] was a critical turning point in our efforts to improve outcomes for our children. We are now both the largest single provider of services for three- and four-year-old children and of Head Start-eligible children in the District of Columbia.”

Charlotte b claytonLastly, Ms. Brantley, who runs a non-profit early learning organization in Denver, Colorado, emphasized the importance of both state and federal commitments to funding early learning programs, said “Effective collaborations, such as those with school districts, create the systems to support children’s success. We know first-hand that early childhood education at the community level through programs such as CPP strengthens the public-private partnerships between school districts, community-based programs, and Head Start programs. We fully support continued encouragement of such partnerships to leverage all of the early care and education resources in local communities to create high quality choices for parents to help their children succeed.”

The hearing ended following questions, both technical and philosophical regarding the nature of early childhood investments and the best way to ensure that any federal funds spent on early learning are spent in the most efficient and beneficial way to the children and families that need them.

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