Child care providers and early learning advocates on Tuesday praised a Congressional spending deal that increases investment in early childhood education by more than $1 billion.
"Decades of research have found that quality early education leads to a wide range of short- and long-term benefits, including better educational outcomes, stronger job earnings, and lower crime and delinquency rates," said Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, in a prepared statement Tuesday. "Simply put, early childhood education works."
The $1 trillion dollar deal announced Monday funds the federal government through October and would restore Head Start sequestration cuts and add another $612 million over 2013 levels. It would also provide $500 million for Early Head Start, which serves infants through toddlers age 3. In addition, it would offer $250 million in new Race to the Top competitive Early Learning grants to help states bolster their programs.
The hefty funding allocation for early childhood programs stunned some budget watchers because the overall deal included no new money, said Catriona Macdonald, a spokeswoman for an early learning advocacy group.
"Oh, my goodness," she said. "This is really amazing."
Although it's not yet a done deal, Macdonald said she and others who have been monitoring the negotiations believe the Omnibus spending bill could be signed into law by this weekend. It begins to fund President Barack Obama's early learning initiative, she said.
"There will be liberal Democrats who will vote no because they feel like there is not enough money in this bill to fund important national priorities and there will be conservatives who vote against this because they feel it is too much money," she said. "But there is a fairly high level of confidence right now that this will pass."
Nationwide, about 57,000 children had to be dropped from Head Start due to automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration, including 5,500 in California.
"This is going to allow us to restore all of the slots that were cut this year," said Rick Mockler, executive director of the state's Head Start Association. "It will also allow us to expand services to infants and toddlers, which includes both home visiting for really high risk young and vulnerable mothers, and also to expand partnerships with family child care providers."
In Contra Costa County, where Head Start serves about 2,300 children a day, more than 50 children were cut from the program because of sequestration and some programs were shortened by nine weeks, affecting about 600 children, said Camilla Rand, director of the Community Services Bureau for the county.
She said she was thankful and pleased with the momentum that is building in the state and nation to fund early childhood education.
"People are really starting to pay attention to what the research says," she said. "I think it's also a focus right now because the state child development program has gone through three years ... of massive cuts. Our bureau was reduced $5 million since 2009-10, so people are starting to realize that that really has chiseled away at the infrastructure."
Sean Casey, executive director of First 5 Contra Costa, said he was happy to see federal movement toward universal high quality preschool for all children.
"It's great to see that something like this can get through Congress right now, especially since the Legislature is taking up similar work," he said. "I think it's going to take both federal and state support to really get it going in a state as big as California."
Details of the Congressional budget deal are available at www.appropriations.senate.gov.