Those crazy Brits – and our shared scandal

Not only do they drive on the wrong side of the road —  they actually require that local government “must ensure accessible, affordable care ‘delivered flexibly at a range of high-quality settings’, including schools and nurseries.”

Imagine that!

Read a little further on, and you find that there are problems with financing and with availability of childcare. But what I find most startling, and admirable, is the shared conviction that families deserve access to childcare. The article quoted from the (British) National Daycare Trust:

“At a time when one in five children lives in poverty, the failure to provide this essential service for parents who want to provide for their families is a national scandal.”

Over on this side of the pond, the number of children living in poverty is about the same, and the public commitment to early childhood education is — perhaps even more than in Britain — a national scandal.

The Children’s Defense Fund has the numbers on child poverty (about 22 percent, nationwide):

More than 16.1 million children in America are poor, but they live in working families. A disproportionate number are Black and Latino. Poor children lag behind their peers in many ways beyond income: They are less healthy, trail in emotional and intellectual development, and are less likely to graduate from high school. Poor children also are likely to become the poor parents of the future. Every year that we keep children in poverty costs our nation half a trillion dollars in lost productivity, poorer health and increased crime

and on the availability and affordability of early childhood care and education:

Only three percent of eligible infants and toddlers are able to secure spots in Early Head Start due to limited funding …

The annual cost of center-based child care for a four year old is more than the annual in-state tuition at a public four-year college in 26 states and the District of Columbia

Everybody from pointy-headed intellectuals to usually right-leaning business owners, knows that early childhood education pays off.

Economics professor Nancy Folbre wrote in the New York Times:

“Even a 4-year-old can understand the case for early-childhood education. It’s fun, you learn things, you make it easier for Mom and Dad to earn a decent living, and when you grow up you will be better able to earn a decent living yourself. At that point, you will start paying taxes that return the favor, helping finance the retirement and health care of the generation that invested in your education.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorses early learning, too:

 “investments in high-quality early learning programs for children from birth to age five yield high returns. In fact, research shows that for every dollar invested today, savings range from $2.50 to as much as $17 in the years ahead.

Early education helps kids and parents, produces a great return-on-investment, and can even help to reduce the achievement gap. The president made early childhood education a focus of his State of the Union address, Governor Dayton agreed in his state of the state address and budget plan, so of course we are focusing state and national resources on supporting preschool education, right?

Not yet.

Talk is cheap, but preschool education is not. So far the biggest Congressional action on funding preschool education has been the sequester, which takes money away from Head Start (among other things.) According to the White House information sheet, the sequester will knock out funding for 700 Minnesota kids in Head Start and Early Head Start programs (and 70,000 nationwide) and subsidies for 500 Minnesota child care spots for disadvantaged and vulnerable children (and 30,000 nationwide.)

That’s one thing we have in common with the Brits — “the failure to provide this essential service for parents who want to provide for their families is a national scandal.”

The Minnesota legislature has an opportunity to act to ameliorate this scandal, at least here in the land of 10,000 promises. Want to get involved? 

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