Business Titan Urges Congress to Boost Early Education Funding
March 07, 2011 | By Brian McCollough | The Delaware County Daily Times | Link to article
A prominent Chester County businessman is calling on Congress to do something it is loath to do these days - spend money on a government program.
Jack Brennan, chairman emeritus and former CEO of Vanguard, the mutual fund giant based in Tredyffrin, is supporting a bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., that would provide funding for early childhood education programs for children in low-income families.
Brennan, a member of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission, took part in a conference call with Casey and other supporters of the Supporting State Systems of Early Learning Act in Washington last week.
"We're really pleased Sen. Casey has taken up this cause," Brennan said "The commonwealth has been a leader in the field and a role model for what the rest of the country should be doing."
Casey's bill would establish an Early Learning Challenge Fund to help states build and strengthen systems of early learning, "so that more low-income children ages zero to five have access to high-quality early learning and development opportunities that prepare them for success in school and beyond," he said in a statement.
In his conference call, Casey acknowledged he is introducing the bill with a $350 million price tag at a time when Congress is focused on cutting into the country's ballooning deficit.
But he argued the bill is fiscally responsible, noting that it forces states and programs to compete for funding, and maintaining returns will far outpace the upfront cost.
He said his argument is based on Pennsylvania's experience, where early learning programs have created more engaged students that have cut down on special-education needs, truancy and other long-term consequences of unengaged students.
"Investing in early learning pays off," Casey said. "Economists have estimated a return on investment for early childhood education programs of approximately 16 percent. This legislation will establish a one-time investment to help states raise the bar on program quality and provide more children with early access to high-quality education."
Brennan said his interest in the topic comes honestly - his wife has been an educator for 35 years. He also noted that his grandparents emigrated from Ireland with elementary school educations. His parents, subsequently, received graduate degrees (his mother was a teacher) and his generation has been able to attend "expensive, fancy schools."
"The difference was education," Brennan said. "It's the answer to many of the ills we have today. You look at the advantages my kids have - I think every kid should have an opportunity."
Casey said the bill will:
Help states raise the bar on program quality, improve work force qualifications and create a seamless system of early care and learning that working families and children can rely upon.
Make funds available on a competitive basis to states that have demonstrated the greatest progress in establishing a system of high-quality early learning, as well as states that demonstrate a commitment to building a high-quality system of early learning.
Give priority to states that establish public-private partnerships and that leverage federal child care funds for the purposes of the act.
Require that states provide a matching rate of 15 percent and an assurance that new funding will supplement and not supplant current funding used to support early learning programs.
The act is co-sponsored by Democratic senators Dick Durbin of Illinois, Patty Murray of Washington, Chris Coons of Delaware and Al Franken of Minnesota.
It is endorsed by the Center for Law and Social Policy, Children's Defense Fund, First Five Years Fund, First Focus, National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, National Association for the Education of Young Children, National Women's Law Center, Pre-K Now and Save the Children.