Duncan warns we can't afford to cut early education


Every year, about this time, a season rolls around that inevitably stirs up some controversy. No, it isn’t spring: its budget season.  With deep cuts being proposed left and right, one can’t help but to wince when they hear the most important aspect of our children’s future is on the line yet again: education. 

So, with such a big emphasis lately about the United States lagging other countries in the number of college graduates, it was refreshing to hear Arne Duncan’s radio interview Tuesday on Market Place Morning ( read the interview here.)

After the familiar rhetoric on the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, the conversation turned to the unavoidable budget cuts that education faces. Jeremy Hobson (the interviewer) asked a question that I would hope every single lawmaker would listen to which was, “What would you say to lawmakers to cut education smartly?”  

Duncan’s reply? To be smart about education budget cuts means to not cut early childhood education. Duncan is correct. By now it is a known fact that the first years of a child’s life are the most influential. Cuts to early childhood programs would have a serious negative impact on our nation's future. In other words, if we’re serious about competing globally, we absolutely cannot afford to skimp on early childhood education.

The U.S. can lead the world again in college graduates, but to do that we have to start early. Infant and toddler early. Instead of just emphasizing getting high school kids ready for college, we also need to focus on getting preschoolers prepared for kindergarten.

Hopefully, Congress will get the message and finally pass the Early Learning Challenge Fund. It was lost in the shuffle when the student aid reform bill it was attached to was swallowed by the health reform bill. Read the new ELCF proposal here. The fund would help states build and strengthen systems for early education though competitive grants, similar to Race to the Top, one of the few aspects of education reform embraced by both Democrats and Republicans.