Protecting Today's Early Childhood Programs Promotes Tomorrow's Economic Success

Nov 19, 2010

By Danielle Ewen

In early December, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform will likely make statements about how to reduce the deficit. Some early recommendations from members suggest that a combination of spending cuts, entitlement reform and tax increases may be in play, yet one metric seems to be absent from the conversation: how to protect investments in the programs that support children and families, especially our most vulnerable children.

Some of the most important programs for young children-Head Start, Early Head Start, and child care subsidies-are discretionary spending programs that would be first in line to be cut. But does it matter? In the words of Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, "at least some cutting of programs for the poor should be a part of the final deal."  

Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman has weighed in with a letter to the Deficit Commission arguing for investments in children birth to five. Dr. Heckman makes the case for "why it is so important for us to invest in early childhood education for disadvantaged children, why it would be harmful to cut funding to existing programs and, finally, the kind of effective programs we should look to build."  

Dr. Heckman's letter should be required reading for everyone involved in solving the deficit problem.  Making the most vulnerable in society-who already shoulder the burdens of food insecurity, increasing homelessness, poor schools, mediocre child care and limited access to health care--take on even more to pay down the deficit undermines future productivity and economic success and is a short-sighted solution. 

Real solutions to difficult problems require complex thinking. Here's hoping that our best minds can solve today's fiscal deficit without contributing to a human capital deficit tomorrow.

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