Early Childhood Education Update - December 2010

December 09, 2010 | Child Care & Early Education

In this issue:

NATIONAL AND STATE-BY-STATE DATA ON HEAD START PROGRAMS IN 2009

CLASP recently updated its DataFinder database with national and state-by-state data on Head Start Programs in 2009. The data is based on Head Start Program Information Reports (PIR), which all grantees are required to submit to the federal government on an annual basis. CLASP has also created national and state fact sheets analyzing Head Start PIR data for 2009. Each profile includes data on all Head Start programs in the state (Early Head Start, Head Start preschool, American Indian and Alaskan Native Head Start, and Migrant/Seasonal Head Start). More specifically, the information includes data on participants, families, staff, and programs.

In 2009, the federal Head Start program served over a million children of diverse races, ethnicities, and home languages. Head Start helped many of those children access needed medical services: 91 percent of enrolled children received medical screenings, and of those requiring further treatment, 94 percent received that treatment. What's more, this two-generation program serves families as well as children. In 2009, 74 percent of Head Start families accessed at least one support service through the program, such as parenting education, health education, or emergency intervention services.

CHILD NUTRITION BILL PASSES, BUT INCLUDES SNAP BENEFIT CUTS

On December 2, 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, reauthorizing the nation's federal child nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly "food stamps"), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). In 2008, more than 16 million children lived in food insecure households. The child nutrition programs are critical sources of support for alleviating hunger and malnutrition among these families. SNAP currently assists more than 40 million low-income Americans, the largest number ever.

The reauthorization package directs $4.5 billion over 10 years to the child nutrition programs and includes provisions that will simplify access to them. The package also contains provisions concerning the nutritional quality of foods provided through the programs and program management. Among its specific provisions, the bill will:

  • Expand and simplify eligibility for school lunches, making the process paperless for many.
  • Expand direct certification for children who qualify for Medicaid, those in foster care and others.
  • Update the WIC program by allowing agencies to certify children to participate for twice as long and by mandating nationwide use of electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards by 2020.
  • Improve nutritional standards and decrease the paperwork requirements for providers participating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

Although the legislation makes major improvements to the child nutrition programs, the package is less than half of the Administration's proposed $10 billion over 10 years and is paid for in part through a reduction in benefits in SNAP. The SNAP reduction will mean a benefit cut for millions of households, many of which include children. The child nutrition reauthorization package is headed to the President's desk and is expected to be signed.

A GOVERNOR'S GUIDE TO BUILDING EARLY CHILDHOOD SYSTEMS

The National Governors Association has released a new guide, Build Ready States: A Governor's Guide to Supporting a Comprehensive, High-Quality Early Childhood State System. The guide outlines six key actions that governors can take to establish early childhood systems that support the needs of young children and their families, coordinate state and federal programs, and ensure program accountability. These actions are:  

  • Coordinate early childhood governance through a state early childhood advisory council (ELAC),
  • Build an integrated early childhood professional development system,
  • Implement a quality rating and improvement system (QRIS),
  • Develop a longitudinal and coordinated early childhood data system,
  • Align comprehensive early learning guidelines and standards for children from birth to age 8 with K-3 content standards, and
  • Integrate federal, state, and private funding sources.

The guide provides an overview of the benefits of early childhood programs and the major characteristics of high-quality, comprehensive early childhood systems. It then describes how governors can move forward on the six recommended steps. State examples accompany each step to illustrate how states can implement concrete actions that build their early childhood systems.

EARLY CHILDHOOD PROGRAMS: AN INVESTMENT IN AMERICA'S ECONOMIC SUCCESS

Our Fiscal Security, a partnership of Demos, the Economic Policy Institute, and The Century Foundation, has released a new report, Investing in America's Economy: A Blueprint for Economic Recovery and Fiscal Responsibility. The report offers a plan for how to restore the fiscal health of the nation and build economic prosperity. To build economic prosperity, the report calls for a range of public investments that promote long-term growth and productivity, including investments in high-quality child care and early education. High-quality early childhood education can play a critical role in ensuring that young children are nurtured and supported during their first years of life, a critical time of growth and development. Healthy young child development can translate into various long-term benefits. Among these benefits, children who attend high-quality early childhood education programs are less likely to engage in criminal behavior, while more likely to graduate from high school and enter the workforce at higher income grades, which increases tax revenue. The report observes, however, that only a small percentage of eligible children are enrolled in quality early care and education programs, such as Head Start and Early Head Start. Less than half of eligible preschool-age children are participating in Head Start, while less than 3 percent of eligible families are enrolled in Early Head Start.

The report recommends a comprehensive update and expansion of child care and early education programs and services so that all young children can obtain the benefits of early care and learning. This includes providing resources to improve the quality and training of child care providers, expanding tax credits for moderate and middle-income families, and increasing investments in Head Start/Early Head Start to allow all eligible families to participate in the programs.

TACKLING CHILD POVERTY: LESSONS LEARNED FROM BRITAIN

First Focus and the Foundation for Child Development have released a new report, Tackling Child Poverty and Improving Child Well-Being: Lessons From Britain. The report examines efforts made in Britain over the past decade to end child poverty. In 1999, then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, launched a comprehensive anti-poverty initiative that reduced child poverty by more than a half (as measured in absolute terms). The initiative accomplished this by focusing on three overall actions: promoting work and making work pay, expanding financial support for families, and investing in children. Early childhood investments were a central component to the initiative's investments in children. Britain enacted a broad set of reforms to support young children and their families, including doubling paid maternity leave to nine months, offering universal preschool for three and four year olds, expanding access to child care assistance for working families, and establishing an infant/toddler program called Sure Start in the poorest communities. Since the initiative's launch, child poverty in the country has declined, even in the present recession. This is in contrast to the U.S. where child poverty has increased during the recession to its highest level in two decades. The report outlines actions that the U.S. can take to reduce child poverty based on Britain's experience.

The report also provides an assessment of Britain's current political situation. In May 2010, a new coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats was voted into office. The coalition government has expressed its commitment to ending child poverty but at the same time is committed to significantly reducing public spending. Early childhood investments appear to remain a priority. The government announced that no cuts would be made to the Sure Start program, and the universal preschool program would actually be expanded for disadvantaged 2 year olds.

SCHOOL READINESS BEGINS IN INFANCY

J. Ronald Lally, co-director of the Center for Child & Family Studies at WestEd, has published a new article in the November 2010 issue of Phi Delta Kappan. The article, "School Readiness Begins in Infancy," highlights the importance of supporting mothers and their young children, starting with access to prenatal care. New research in the sciences reveals that the foundations of brain structure are built during the first two years of a child's life. These foundations serve as the base for future learning and well-being. The article finds that school readiness interventions that begin after a child turns three years old may come too late given this early and important brain development. Many of the skills needed to be successful in school are learned during a baby's daily interactions with those who care for him/her. Research evidence indicate that infants who have stable, responsive primary caregivers that nurture their social and emotional development are more likely to develop a sense of security, a critical factor for successful learning. Despite the evidence, the article finds that there is a lack of resources and support for new mothers and their infants, particularly when compared to other developed nations. For instance, every industrialized country, except the U.S., offers paid, universal for parents before, at, and after a child is born. Only six states in the U.S. provide parental leave. To better support the needs of new mothers and their babies, the article recommends improved access to:

  • Health insurance,
  • Prenatal care and support,
  • Paid parental leave, and
  • Primary and preventive care.

In addition, the article recommends that the following areas be targeted for improvement:

  • Child care regulations and policies,
  • Fair wages for professional child care providers, and
  • Infant/toddler child care subsidies.

CHILD POVERTY RATES HIGHER AMONG MINORITY GROUPS AND RURAL COMMUNITIES

A new policy brief by the Carsey Institute analyzes child poverty rates based on data collected from the American Community Survey (ACS). The brief, The Unequal Distribution of Child Poverty: Highest Rates Among Young Blacks and Children of Single Mothers in America, breaks down child poverty rates by age, race, family structure, region, and place type. Overall, ACS data reveal that young children (under age six) who live in rural areas are more likely to be poor than young children in suburban or central city regions. Furthermore, young child poverty rates are higher among minority children. Among the brief's specific findings:

  • Race: Young child poverty rates for African American and Hispanic children (41 percent and 31 percent, respectively) are more than twice the poverty rate for young white children (14 percent).
  • Family structure: About 40 percent of households with single mothers live in poverty, more than triple the poverty rate for married couples with children (7.5 percent).
  • Region: Overall child poverty rates range from 10 percent in the Northeast to 44 percent in the Midwest.
  • Rural: In rural areas, young child poverty rates are approximately 56 percent for African American children, 40 percent for Hispanic, and 22 percent for white children.
  • Suburban: In suburban areas, young child poverty rates are approximately 31percent for African American children, 25 percent for Hispanic, and 11 percent for white children.
  • Central city: In central city areas, young child poverty rates are approximately 45 percent for African American children, 37 percent for Hispanic, and 14 percent for white children.

THE EFFECTS OF RECESSION ON CHILD WELL-BEING AND HOUSING STABILITY FOR FAMILIES

In a collaborative effort, First Focus, the Foundation for Child Development and PolicyLab at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia have released two new policy briefs that examine the effects of the recession on children and families. These briefs are:

  • The Effect of Recession on Child Well-Being: This report looks at the effects of recession on four domain of child well-being: health, food security, housing stability, housing stability, and maltreatment. In 2007, 13.3 million children lived in poverty. In 2009, this number rose to 15.5 million children. The report observes that there is strong correlation between poverty and poor child health. Among children who are not insured, about 65 percent are eligible but not enrolled in public health insurance programs. Food insecurity also presents a challenge in times of recession. Since 2007, there has been an almost 25 percent increase in the number of children living in food insecure households. Similar to the problem of food insecurity, the report finds that about 43 of families with children are struggling to afford stable housing. Nearly 40 percent of renters spent at least 35 percent of their income on housing in 2008. Data on child neglect following the 1990-1991 and 2001 recessions additionally suggest that recessions have negative impacts on child maltreatment cases. The report finds that following these recessions, there was a spike in child maltreatment despite a recovering economy.
  • The Recession and Housing Stability: This report highlights the impacts of recession on housing stability. Research evidence strongly suggests that inadequate or insecure housing has adverse impacts on child well-being. As many as 1.5 million children experience homelessness at some point in their lives. Low-income families are particularly vulnerable. The report observes that low-income families are more likely to struggle with obtaining and maintaining safe, stable housing than families with higher incomes. Frequent moves associated with housing instability can disrupt a child's learning and lead to lower academic achievement. The report presents lessons learned from previous recessions and discusses the current recession, including the present affordability of housing, the foreclosure crisis, and homelessness rates. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has helped to support families and avert major housing problems. However, the report finds that continued federal funds for emergency housing and foreclosure prevention may be not enough to protect low-income families from housing instability or homelessness.

STATE EARLY CHILDHOOD PROGRAM EVALUATIONS: SOUTH CAROLINA'S FIRST STEPS TO SCHOOL READINESS AND WASHINGTON STATE'S ECEAP PROGRAM

Two new reports provide an assessment of early childhood programs in South Carolina and Washington. These reports are:

  • Further Steps to School Readiness: 2009 Evaluation of the South Carolina First Steps to School Readiness Initiatives - This report by the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation is the third evaluation of South Carolina's First Steps to School Readiness initiative. Previous evaluations conducted in 2003 and 2006 focused on program implementation and outcomes, respectively. In this latest evaluation, researchers continued analyzing program outcomes. Four components of First Steps were examined: home visiting (parenting and family literacy programs), child care quality enhancement and scholarships, the school transition program (Countdown to Kindergarten), and the four-year-old kindergarten program. Researchers found that home visiting services continued to serve the most vulnerable children. The percent of children participating in home visiting and who had two or more risk factors rose from 59 percent in FY 2007-08 to nearly 76 percent in FY 2008-09. More than 100,000 home visits and 12,000 group meetings were successfully conducted in FY 2008-2009. Researchers additionally found that quality enhancement strategies, such as classroom technical assistance, had positive effects on increasing the quality of child care as indicated by pre-and-post assessments using the environment rating scales. Among other results, researchers found that children who participated in both the four-year-old kindergarten and home visiting programs were more likely to score higher on the state's school readiness assessment compared to children in only the full-day kindergarten program. Findings also indicate that First Steps improved parent-teacher interactions, professional practice, and parent participation in kindergarten.
  • ECEAP Outcomes: 2009-2010 School Year - This annual report by the Washington State Department of Early Learning provides a review of the state's pre-kindergarten program, the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP). The report provides data on the demographic characteristics of ECEAP participants and examines the impacts of ECEAP on social-emotional, learning, and family outcomes. In 2009, ECEAP provided more than 8,000 slots for low-income and at-risk children. Demand for the program, however, was higher: at the program's peak, more than 2,000 four-year-olds and 3,000 three-year-olds were on waiting lists, twice what it was the previous school year. The report finds that the program has had overall positive effects on all three outcome areas. For instance, the number of children with strong protective factors (measures of a child's strengths in initiative, attachment, and self-control) increased from about 19 percent to 37 percent, while the number of children with behavioral problems decreased. From the fall of 2009 to the summer of 2010, the percent of ECEAP children who were at or above their developmental level in alphabetic understanding rose from 21 percent to about 68 percent. Interviews conducted with approximately 1,900 ECEAP families also indicate that the program has helped to improve family engagement in classrooms and foster teacher-parent relationships.

A COST ESTIMATE OF EXPANDING PRE-KINDERGARTEN SERVICES IN VERMONT

The Public Assets Institute has released a new policy brief, Increasing Pre-K Enrollment: Small Investment, Big Benefits, which estimates how much it would cost the state of Vermont to expand access to pre-kindergarten services. In FY 2010, nearly 4,900 children, or about 37 percent of the state's three- and four-year-old population, were enrolled in publicly funded pre-kindergarten. The brief approximates that if pre-kindergarten enrollment increased at a rate of 15 percent per year for the next five years, participation would reach 65 percent; about 3,400 additional children would be enrolled in pre-kindergarten. Based on data by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), the brief calculates that the per pupil cost would be about $4,000/child. Thus, the total cost to the state for expanding pre-kindergarten enrollment would be about $13.6 million over the next five years, or about 1 percent of Vermont's total K-12 budget. To cover this cost, the brief finds that Education Fund revenues would need to grow at about 0.1 percent per year over the next 5 years. This translates to a slight tax increase for Vermont residents and businesses. For instance, a homeowner with a $200,000 home would pay an additional $27 total in homestead taxes over the next five years. Balancing these costs, the brief also notes the short and long-term benefits derived from investments in pre-kindergarten, such as greater job creation over time. 

 

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