The Economic Crisis Hits Early Education
- Economy Affecting Arizona Preschools, Child Care Karina Bland, Arizona Republic (November 28, 2008)
- Child Care Costs a Concern with Down Economy NACCRRA Early Childhood Focus (November 20, 2008)
- The Littlest Victims of the Mortgage Crisis Brigid Schulte, Washington Post (November 17, 2008)
- Day Care Enrollment Falls in Tight Economy Mike Markewinski, KSHB-TV (November 15, 2008)
- Parents Pull Kids From Day Care as Money Tightens Don Babwin, Associated Press (Novmber 10, 2008)
- Preschool and Daycare Enrollment Down Bonnie Obremski, Locally Grown (November 4, 2008)
Any one notice a pattern here? Across the country, families and early education providers are feeling the effects of the weak economy--and it's taking a toll on children's access to quality early education. It's a double whammy: Job losses, reduced asset values, and increased insecurity mean parents have fewer resources to pay for quality early care and education. At the same time, states, which reap fewer tax revenues and greater demand for services in tough economic times, are facing a sea of red ink that will likely lead to some painful belt tightening. So far, states have protected early education and pre-k investments in their fiscal year 2009 budgets, but the worst of the economic crisis hadn't yet hit when these budgets were passed, so larger state cuts are likely to come. And philanthropy, which has also played an important role in funding access to quality childcare for low-income youngsters, is also taking a hit from the financial crisis, which means fewer philanthropic resources available to plug the gaps in our patchwork care and early education system.
Add this to a situtation in which, even pre-downturn, quality early care and education were beyond the resources of many working class and even middle-income families, and where federal investments in early childhood care and education have been stagnant for the past 6 years, and we're likely to see a lot of kids losing access to early care and education. Even families for whom child care is a necessity to enable parents to work, may find themselves forced to downgrade to cheaper, lower-quality, and even potentially unsafe, child care settings.
And this is happening at a time when young children need the benefits of high-quality early education programs more than ever. We know that family stress and economic deprivation can have devastating consequences for young children's development--but high-quality early education programs can help counteract these impacts. Yet at the very moment increasing numbers of families with young children are facing financial stress and economic instability, their children are losing the very early education programs that help them weather the storm.
This is all a good reason for the federal government to step up and make new early care and education investments that can reverse the results of the past 6 years of federal neglect for these programs. Unlike states, which have to balance their budgets every year and thus must cut services at the times when they're most needed, the federal government can borrow to sustain programs during tough economic times.
And, as President-elect Obama said during the debates, early education in one investment that justifies that expenditure even in tough economic times.
In addition, the federal government can act to plug holes in state budgets so that states aren't forced to cut programs at the time they're most needed.
Finally, the economic downturn may provide an opportunity for productive rethinking of how we balance work and family life in this country. As the above articles note, some parents who've lost their jobs are opting to care for their children at home now. While most working parents want to be able to spend more time with their children, this is hardly the way to do that. We have an opportunity to enact policies to improve parents' ability to juggle their responsibilities to both home and work, and we should make sure we take advantage ofthat opportunity.