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Clearinghouse Data Leave More Questions than Answers, and We Need Answers

August 14, 2013
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Twenty-nine percent of first-time community college students transferred to a four-year college within six years, according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse. About 8 in 10 of those transfer students completed a bachelor’s degree or were still enrolled in the four-year school after six years. These are just a few of the interesting and important findings of the report, many of which were previously unknown.

The report, which looked at students who enrolled at a four-year institution for the first time in the 2005-06 academic year and had previously been enrolled in a two-year college, found that 72.5 percent of those students transferred to public colleges, while 19.7 percent enrolled at private nonprofit institutions, and 7.8 percent enrolled at private for-profit schools. The choice of the type of institution to which a student transferred seemed to make a difference in his success. Nearly 65 percent of students who transferred to public four-year schools graduated within six years of transferring, and about 60 percent of students who transferred to private nonprofit schools did. Meanwhile, only about 35 percent of transfer students at private for-profit schools graduated within six years.


At all three types of institutions, students who enrolled full-time graduated at higher rates than students who were enrolled either part-time or who mixed part-time and full-time enrollment while in school.

● At public institutions, 84 percent of full-time students graduated within six years of transferring, while only one in four part-time students did;
● At private nonprofit schools, 79 percent of full-time students graduated within six years, while 31 percent of part-time students did;
● At private for-profit schools, the results weren’t quite as good for the full-time students. Only 57.7 percent of full-time students graduated within six years, while 18.1 percent of part-time students did.

Perhaps most surprising are the aggregate results the Clearinghouse reports. Students who began at two-year colleges and transferred to four-year schools graduated at a higher rate (71.1 percent) than students who attended four-year institutions throughout their academic careers (65.0 percent). But don’t be misled. That number excludes the many community college students who never transfer. Research suggests only about 29 percent of two-year college students transferred to a four-year school, when about half had once stated an intention to transfer – and the Clearinghouse report doesn’t specify its own figures for this category.

The Clearinghouse report offers unique and important insights in answering questions about higher education, like the one addressed in this report: What happens to students who transfer from community colleges? That’s because no one – not even the U.S. Department of Education – has data on higher education as granular as the Clearinghouse data.

The National Student Clearinghouse, originally the National Student Loan Clearinghouse, was developed twenty years ago to help schools track borrowers and that is now used to help schools comply with federal reporting requirements. Schools voluntarily provide the Clearinghouse with extensive student-level data.

But because of a ban passed by Congress in 2008, the Department may not gather student-level data or offer a sort of public Clearinghouse – instead, it only maintains the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which offers a profoundly limited look at aggregate, institution-level data. Because of this limitation, IPEDS is unable to answer some of the most simple and fundamental questions, like what happens to community college students who transfer.

It’s an important question, given that IPEDS shows a graduation rate of only 17.9 percent at two-year schools. That’s because the IPEDS definition doesn’t consider transfers in the graduation rates, despite the fact that community colleges consider transferring students to four-year degree programs one of their primary missions. Without student-level data, there’s no way to give community colleges much-deserved credit for transferring those students -- many of whom, the Clearinghouse report shows, ultimately do complete their degrees.

The data from the Clearinghouse report are interesting, but they’re not enough. We need a public version of the Clearinghouse to answer the other questions important to students and families, researchers, and policymakers. We still don’t know how many community college students wanted to earn a four-year degree and never transferred. We don’t know which specific institutions are helping transfer students graduate and which aren’t serving those populations well. Those, and a whole host of other questions, could—and should—be answered with a national student-level database.

Washington Races Forward In First Year of its Early Learning Challenge Grant

August 13, 2013
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This guest post was written by Paul Nyhan, a journalist and early education expert. He writes about early education at Thrive by Five Washington.

For the past several years, Congress has approved funding for several small grant programs that could offer lessons for policymakers across the country but that rarely attract attention from the mainstream press. These programs include the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, the Social Innovation Fund, Investing in Innovationand Promise Neighborhoods.  While Congress is unlikely to make headway on larger plans, such as President Obama’s 2013 early learning proposal, the work underway in these smaller programs shed light on what states and local communities could aim for – and what mistakes to avoid -- in the future. 
In the next few months, guest blogger Paul Nyhan will provide a window onto four places around the country where these grant programs are triggering changes in early childhood systems. Nyhan kicks off his series by examining how the state of Washington is using its Early Learning Challenge grant. Washington was one of nine states in 2011 to receive the first-ever Early Learning Challenge grants designed to improve a state’s infrastructure for early childhood programs. 

Check out our sidebars on Washington's Early Learning Challenge grant and on the PreK-3rd efforts in seven Washington school districts.

When Washington won an Early Learning Challenge grant, what it really earned was an opportunity to put its vision for early learning on a fast track, one that quickly led to progress and some turbulence within a year.

Essentially, Washington is spending its four-year $60 million grant to speed up three projects that were already underway: construction of a ratings and improvement system for early learning centers (known nationally as QRIS); development of a child assessment and transition program (WaKIDS); and creation of better professional development for early educators.

Expanding Pre-K? Check Out Washington State

August 12, 2013

Forty states operate public pre-K programs,  but 4-year-olds are far from guaranteed a seat in the classroom. Last year, the share of 4-year-olds enrolled in public pre-K ranged from nearly 80 percent in Florida to just shy of 1 percent in Rhode Island, in many cases because of limited funding or capacity.

University of Virginia: Proving Me Right Since 1819

August 12, 2013
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The University of Virginia is no stranger to controversy. Just over a year ago, in June 2012, the school’s governing body, the Board of Visitors, voted to oust the president after less than two years at the helm.

The dethroned President Teresa Sullivan was popular among faculty and students; the ousters on the Board of Visitors, led by Virginia real estate mogul Helen Dragas, were less thrilled with her performance. Sullivan fell out of favor with the board, the Washington Post noted, “because of her perceived reluctance to approach the school with the bottom-line mentality of a corporate chief executive.” After students, faculty, and administrators turned out to defend Sullivan and criticize Dragas, the board reinstated Sullivan.

Flash forward to 2013. In April, Sullivan was at the forefront of the charge to increase the university’s tuitionby 3.8 percent and 4.8 percent for in-state and out-of-state students respectively. Last week, Sullivan was one of the chief supporters of a plan to cut back on the AccessUVa program, the school’s financial aid commitment to low- and moderate-income students that began in 2004. Whereas previously the school covered all costs for students from families making up to twice the federal poverty line (about $47,000 per year for a family of four), the school will now only cover part of the cost, with the student needing to borrow the remaining amount.

The proposal to raise tuition eventually passed the Board of Visitors in a 14-2 vote, as did the proposal to scale back financial aid. The main dissenter in both cases? Helen Dragas.


I’m not normally in favor of a person selectively picking examples that support a pre-existing position, but in this case I am the one doing it so I am willing to make an exception.

A short while ago, I argued in The Atlanticthat the high-tuition, high-aid model was not working. Facing too many funding priorities, it was difficult for schools to keep aid in line with tuition when aid is an easy target for cuts. This parallels closely to the world of social insurance, in which means tested programs for the poor fail to have the same widespread level of support that universal benefit programs do.

The recent decisions at UVA showcase this theory in practice. An article about the April tuition hikes made the point clearly: “In its current form, AccessUVa is diverting a widening stream of university money from other priorities the university is trying to fund, such as faculty salaries, which increasingly lag behind competing schools’.”

This adds further confirmation to the idea that in many cases, even at elite public universities, financial aid and tuition will not rise together. A more likely situation is that tuition will rise and financial aid will fall, putting the burden on low-income students to either not enroll or take on more debt. In either case, the ability for low-income students to maintain access to higher education decreases. Unlike some schools – in which the “other priorities” that take away support for low-income students include funding for ‘merit aid’ and new buildings – UVA’s problems are not so cut and dry. But the problem with high-tuition, high-aid still remains.

In some ways, the financial aid program at UVA is a victim of its own successes: it has worked well enough to attract and enroll low-income students that the school says it now costs too much money. Previously, UVA was able to keep its financial aid costs low because it enrolled extremely few low-income students: in 2004, a mere 8.7 percent of students received federal Pell Grants, a number that actually decreased through 2007. While the share is still very low today relatively to other elite institutions – only 12-13 percent of the undergraduate student body receives Pell Grants – the almost 50 percent increase in the number of low-income students, likely due both to AccessUVa and the impact of the recession, has made the budget pressures of the program more apparent.

This is not to put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the university (or, perhaps, we probably shouldn’t be blaming anyone at all). As UVA is quick to note, it receives lower state appropriations for higher education than many other flagships. The state’s southern neighbor, North Carolina, provides nearly three times as much funding per full time student at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill than Virginia does for its flagship campus. UVA provides this handy chartto show that it receives less funding per in-state student than its competitors. Of course, this chart handpicks which schools it wants to compare to UVA and leaves out other prominent public schools like University of Texas at Austin, which receive less state appropriations than UVA. When I selectively choose examples to help prove my point it’s acceptable, but when other people do it’s far less enjoyable.

Additionally, the school emphasizes that it needs to pay its faculty more to stay competitive – which it cannot do given the increasing amount of money it is using for financial aid. The UVA budget claims that it wants to move its compensation ranking higher on the list produced by the Association of American Universities (AAU). This premise means, however, that UVA is competing with both public and private universities. If fair compensation has to match that of private elite universities, it is not surprising that UVA falls behind. A quick comparison with other large, top-tier public schools based on AAUP data shows that UVA’s faculty compensation, while behind UC-Berkeley and Michigan, is similar to that of Texas and Maryland. So while the concerns about adequate faculty pay are legitimate, it is important to keep in mind how the school defines the competition.

Thus, the pressures facing UVA, while perhaps overstated, are indeed real – and the state’s low level of funding has been a primary contributor to UVA’s funding woes. However, it would also be wrong to let UVA completely off the hook. As Kevin Carey pointed out last year, UVA has an endowment of $5 billion, making it the wealthiest public school per capita in the country. And part of the reason it is struggling is because previously it enrolled very few low-income students. If the school’s distribution of students was unequal before, the best response to an increase in low-income students cannot be to try to make them go away by making college more expensive. By moving further toward a high-tuition, high-aid model, the school has exposed itself to a greater possibility that access for low-income students will continue to fall away.


The third part of a trilogy is always difficult to judge ahead of time, and we may well have to wait until next summer before the third installment of the Dragas-Sullivan showdown occurs. There is an equal chance that it will be a positive development (think: Return of the King) or a negative one (think: Spider-Man 3).

Without knowing more about the internal deliberations and perspectives of each player in this saga, it would be unfair to cast Sullivan’s decisions as a pure embrace of corporate bottom line strategies. But they will certainly make it more difficult for students to afford college, both deterring potential students from enrolling and adding to the student debts of those who do. As Dragas pointed out in the Washington Post, “This goes against our mission of affordable excellence and undermines [university founder Thomas] Jefferson’s insistence that excellence and access were both essential to perpetuating a democracy.”

For those who watched last year’s ouster with a combination of confusion and horror, to view Dragas as the crusader for low-tuition and more access feels a bit strange. And given the many concerns that Dragas voicedabout the state of the budget during the saga, it is unclear what other cuts she would favor to help make up the shortfall. For all we know, it could involve gutting huge swaths of certain departments, which, too, would conflict with a vision of academic excellence.

The policymakers and administrators watching, though, should take note: the combination of decreased state funding, adverse economic conditions, increasing numbers of high-achieving low-income students, and the systemic problems of the high-tuition high-aid model has shifted more of the costs of higher education onto the backs of low- and moderate-income students. This is not just a problem at UVA: all of the incentives in the higher education system are designed to continually push out low- and moderate-income studentsin favor of the rich. As a leading institution, hopefully next summer will see UVA: Episode III in which the school – and state – leads the charge to make quality public higher education available to students of all backgrounds.

Joshua Freedman is a Policy Analyst for the Economic Growth Program at the New America Foundation

Georgetown Law Is Giving Away a Free Education, and You're Paying for It

August 8, 2013
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Lawyers are trained to exploit the letter of the law on behalf of their clients. How we feel about that usually depends on whose side of the case the lawyers are on. Now, one of the nation’s leading law schools is exploiting a huge loophole in federal financial aid law, and taxpayers are clearly on the losing side. If other schools catch on, the result could be an undeserved bonanza for wealthy lawyers and expensive law schools even as other federal aid programs, like Pell Grants, face looming budget cliffs.

The story begins seven years ago when the federal government created two separate programs that, when combined, created the loophole: Grad PLUS loans and Income-Based Repayment for student loans. Under the Grad PLUS program, graduate and professional students can borrow to pay for the entire cost of their education, including living expenses, at just about any school and at whatever price the school sets. Income-Based Repayment, in its most recent iteration, caps recent and future students’ payments on those loans between zero and 10 percent of annual income and forgives any remaining debt after 10 years for those working in virtually any government or non-profit job, or after 20 years for all others.

While both programs have their flaws, on their own they work largely as lawmakers intended. But when schools and students strategically combine them, like ammonium nitrate fertilizer and gasoline, the result is financially explosive. So powerful, in fact, Georgetown Law can promise that students enrolled in its Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) “might not pay a single penny on their loans -- ever!” 

Here’s how it works:

Under Georgetown’s LRAP, students take out Grad PLUS loans to cover the full cost of attending law school (around $75,000 per year, which includes living expenses). After they graduate, they enroll in Income-Based Repayment. If they work in government or non-profit jobs, Georgetown pays 100 percent of their loan payments for 10 years, after which IBR’s loan forgiveness wipes away the remaining balance. The students pay nothing for their education.

On the surface, it seems like Georgetown Law is taking a loss on students who go into public service. But the truth is far more sinister. Georgetown loses little if any money from this scheme because the school simply includes the cost of the loan repayment program in its tuition. And since the federal government issues loans for whatever amount Georgetown charges, students just take out more loans to cover that cost.

See the problem? Neither Georgetown nor its students are financing the program. You are, as a taxpayer by providing them with access to unlimited loans and unlimited loan forgiveness.

But don’t take our word for it. Assistant Dean for Financial Aid Charles Pruett recently told students in a taped seminar that, “It's not really Georgetown [who finances the program], it's you guys, because LRAP is primarily funded through tuition." And remember: those students take out federal loans to pay that tuition, and will ultimately have those loans forgiven.

Pruett explains in a journal article that combining Grad PLUS and IBR “makes it possible for law schools to create or restructure LRAP programs in a way that provides significant debt relief to graduates in public service at the lowest possible cost to the law school… The central idea behind coordinating LRAP and federal benefits [is to have] federal programs do most of the heavy lifting.” (emphasis added)

That’s nice lawyer-ese. After Georgetown bears the “lowest possible cost” the “heavy lifting” left for taxpayers is a whopping $158,888 per student. That is, by our estimate, the average amount of debt a Georgetown LRAP participant stands to walk away from under IBR. Compare that to what the federal government provides as a maximum Pell Grant benefit of $34,000 over six years for low-income undergraduate students.

Pruett and his colleague Phil Schrag have encouraged other law schools to launch programs like Georgetown’s, and several have (e.g. Berkeley and Duke). In fact, there is nothing to stop all graduate schools from adopting these schemes and expanding them to graduates beyond those in so-called public service jobs once they understand that the apparent cost of covering a student’s loan payments is really no cost at all; nothing prevents a school from simply hiking tuition by the same amount. But those tuition hikes never translate into higher loan payments for student or school—only bigger loan forgiveness after 10 or 20 years under IBR.

This cannot be what most lawmakers had in mind when they created IBR, loan forgiveness for public service, or Grad PLUS loans. Fortunately, they need only make a few tweaks to head off the abuse.

First, impose a $30,000 cap on the amount of debt non-profit or government workers can have forgiven under IBR. That is slightly below the maximum the government would provide an undergraduate from a low-income family under the Pell Grant program. Graduate students shouldn’t qualify for more de facto grant aid than low-income undergraduate students. The cap allows for significant loan forgiveness but does not give schools a blank check to raise tuition. It also ensures that students have skin in the game when they decide how much to pay and borrow for school. Borrowers who still struggle to repay after having $30,000 forgiven can continue to repay under IBR and have debt forgiven after 20 years.

Lawmakers should not limit the amount forgiven at the 20-year mark. That provision is a safety net for borrowers who legitimately struggle to repay their loans for an extended period. Therefore, the only way to fully check the financing schemes is to limit the amount graduate and professional students can borrow. An annual $25,000 limit and an aggregate $75,000 limit for all federal loans would solve the problem. Those limits could be higher, but lawmakers should then require graduate students to repay for 25 years before they could receive loan forgiveness.

Pruett, the assistant dean at Georgetown Law all but admits lawmakers would be justified in reining in the programs. In response to a student who wonders when Congress might shut the schemes down, he says the year 2017. Why? “My concern is… that’s when the first large wave of forgiveness may happen, and that’s when, if someone wakes up to what they’ve done, that’s probably when it’s going to be.” In the meantime, Georgetown Law graduates can look forward to U.S. taxpayers footing the bill for most of their education.

Here’s your wakeup call, Congress.


Click here for a group of clips where Georgetown Law explains how the program works.

Click here for a full explanation of how we arrived at $158,888 as the average loan forgiveness figure.

IES Report: Early Interventions and Early Childhood Education

August 7, 2013
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On July 23rd the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) released a report on research pertaining to early childhood education. The report describes findings supported by IES early intervention and childhood education research grants, as well as how to use these to better support improvements in early childhood education in the United States. In particular, it spotlights instructional practices and curriculum that appear to enhance young children’s development and learning and approaches for improving teachers’ and other practitioners’ instruction.

The Scariest Student Loan Figure is $14,500

August 6, 2013

This post also appeared on our sister blog, Higher Ed Watch.

Yesterday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released a new set of data that give the best look to date at the repayment plans of borrowers and the status of their loans. Depending on how much you like to assert gloom and doom in the loan portfolio, the headline-grabbing figure is likely to be either: $3 out of every $10 loan dollars are in deferment, forbearance, or default or only about 20 percent of loan dollars in repayment are in income-based plans. But the figures also show how focusing on absolute debt balances to highlight struggles can be misleading and context matters when it comes to loan performance.

A general assumption in much student debt coverage is that someone with high balances is likely to struggle and default. But this chart from the CFPB suggests that narrative isn't quite so straightforward:

Average Balance By Repayment Status


What this shows is that borrowers in default had by far the lowest debt balances of anyone who had actually entered repayment. (The in-school figure is only a bit higher, but that's also capturing everyone from the fifth-year senior with loan debt from each year and someone just starting out with a small Stafford loan.) That may seem counterintuitive, but it should not be surprising. Research shows that program completion is a major factor in whether or not a student defaults on his or her loans. And since students have annual loan limits, someone who drops out early in their college career can only accumulate so much debt. This means high-debt borrowers are more likely to have finished their programs and are thus at less risk of default. 

The low debt levels of defaulters should make us rethink the way we portray student debt in two ways. First, some people may actually be served by borrowing more, not less.* Think about a dropout who already has student loan debt. They may get a little bit of an earnings return for having completed some college, but not as much as if they'd finished. For that individual, they might actually be better served with more debt if that would help them complete.

*I'm assuming no changes to the financial aid system. In general, more grant aid that's invested more intelligently would better.

Second, flashy debt balances make for good press but not necessarily good policy. I'm just as compelled and saddened by the latest story on the New York University graduate student with $100,000 in debt as the next guy, but I'm a lot more worried about the person earning minimum wage with $5,000 in debt.  The most an undergraduate student of any type can borrow through the federal programs is $57,500, and that's as an independent; dependent students are capped at $31,000. Sure those balances can get bigger with interest, but it's unlikely to hit that magic six figures before ending up in a worse circumstance like default. But even those undergraduates with high debt balances are likely to be in four-year bachelor's degree programs where their expected returns are much higher.

Instead, we should be worrying about these low balance dropouts, such as someone who attended a certificate program for a year and did not finish. For these borrowers, even a few thousand dollars could be an economic shock they cannot recover from. 

Income-Based Repayment May Not Be Helping

Instead of defaulting, the low-debt defaulters should be taking advantage of income-based repayment. But, the debt numbers released on IBR demonstrate that the intended beneficiaries are falling through the cracks while graduate students with high debt balances are taking advantage of the program. 

Repayment Plans of Direct Loan Borrowers


Income-based repayment is portrayed as a safety net to help low-income students manage their loan payments. Though not explicitly stated, the assumption is that these individuals are likely to be undergraduates just getting started on their careers. But the chart above suggests that the average IBR participant is likely to have graduate school debt. The roughly 900,000 borrowers with Direct Loans enrolled in IBR have an average loan balance of $55,900--a figure that's essentially impossible for undergraduate borrowers to hit. An dependent undergraduate can only borrow up to $31,000, which means someone borrowing the maximum would have to make no payments for seven years and avoid losing IBR eligibility by defaulting in order to hit that level. While an independent undergraduate student could borrow that much, in practice they tend to take out less debt than a dependent student. That leaves graduate students, who can borrow up to $138,500 in Stafford loans, plus an essentially uncapped amount in PLUS loan debt.

We can't know from these numbers, alone, exactly who these borrowers are, but here are some educated guesses as to why graduate students might be more likely to use IBR. Students selecting IBR have to navigate a multitude of repayment options and then complete paperwork that is notoriously complicated and difficult to use. This creates an immediate disposition toward not making choices and just using the standard 10-year repayment plan, which the table above shows is the  most popular option. While struggling dropouts would likely benefit from IBR, they’ve probably lost touch with their school and probably aren’t getting much support in choosing the right repayment plan. Borrowers with advanced degrees and proactive financial aid offices, on the other hand, have a significant incentive to make sure higher debt balances don’t become unmanageable. (There is evidence that graduate schools exert a significant amount of effort helping students enroll in IBR.)

Based upon Safety Net or Windfallan analysis of IBR and other repayment plans conducted by Jason Delisle and Alex Holt last year, it's likely that these high-debt borrowers in IBR are either pursuing Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) or in low-paying jobs. That's because the analysis showed that someone with high debt and moderate to high income would be better served in the extended graduated repayment plan than using IBR. (This is no longer true with the new Pay As You Earn option, which is the best deal for high debt, high income borrowers.) So someone making the best repayment plan choice here would either be trying to get the 10-year PSLF or be unable to find a high-paying job. And we know there are plenty of bad graduate schools out there with abysmal employment numbers or unemployed law students. 

The mismatch between those going into default and those in IBR suggests that the program needs to be drastically simplified, and perhaps become the default option instead of the 10-year payment plan. Alternatively, payments could be done through employer withholding, as suggested by the Petri-Polis ExCEL Act. Regardless of the exact solution, in a world where those going into default have loan balances one-quarter the size of those using income-based plans, we need to do a better job making sure the policy solution is actually helping those who need it most. 

New Data Needed Despite Survey of Early Childhood Spending Across the U.S.

August 6, 2013
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This post originally appeared on our sister blog, Early Ed Watch.

States invested slightly more money into early childhood education in 2013 compared to 2012, according to a new survey of 21 states from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). That’s a reassuring trend, given that most states are still treading water after the financial recession. But it may not be the whole story.

NCSL’s survey looks at 21 regionally, politically, and financially diverse states. Twelve of them increased funding for child care in fiscal year 2013 (one, Ohio, did not provide information); 10 increased funding for pre-K (one, Illinois, didn’t respond and two, Arizona and Mississippi, don’t have state pre-K programs); and 14 increased funding for home visiting programs. Thirteen states also increased funding for other early childhood efforts, though Ohio and Georgia didn’t offer any further information beyond those categories.

The increased funding for state pre-kindergarten is especially encouraging, given that the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) published an updated State of Preschool report last year showing an “unprecedented funding drop” in pre-K spending. It wasn’t all good news: Minnesota decreased pre-K spending by almost 12 percent, and Colorado’s 3 percent decline in spending adds to an ongoing three-year trend. Still, New Mexico reversed its own three-year trend with a 33 percent increase in funding.


According to the report, child care funding stabilized over the past year, too. Prior NCSL surveys from fiscal year 2010 to 2012 found that 17 of 21 states made severe cuts to child care funding. This year, 12 increased funding, and only 7 cut spending on child care. This year’s increases came in spite of a slight decline in federal child care spending, so many of the increases came from: 1) increased state spending or 2) redirecting federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) dollars to child care subsidies.



Home visiting increases were significant, too, totaling nearly $50 million across these 21 states in 2013. But most of the increase in that category was driven by an increase in the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program. MIECHV provided more money to states in 2013 ahead of its scheduled end in fiscal year 2014, though President Obama’s 2014 budget request included an extension and more funding for the program through 2025.

Unfortunately, the survey sheds no light on the effects of this year’s across-the-board federal spending cuts, known as sequestration. The report is based on a December 2012 survey of states – a full three months before sequestration was implemented in March 2013, and only three months into the 2013 federal fiscal year.

To date, there is limited information available from the White House or agencies about the systemic effects of the cuts – but it almost certainly led to declines in funding for most, if not all, of these states. It’s likely that even increases in state funding may not have been adequate to maintain their early childhood funding benchmarks for many states, especially given increasing costs in other sectors like health care. The sequester cut federal Head Start spending, home visiting funds, and the appropriations-funded portion of child care mid-year.

And this isn’t all. There are additional federal spending cuts scheduled for next year, thanks to the same law that put in place sequestration, the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). With states still struggling to recoup their recession-era revenue shortfalls, the additional $18 billion cuts to all discretionary spending mandated by the BCA next year will leave Congress with some tough choices (or with more across-the-board cuts).

For these reasons (and others), we at Ed Money Watch are looking forward to next year’s NCSL survey. It may offer the first clear picture of how budget battles on Capitol Hill are affecting the United States’ youngest children.

New Data Needed Despite Survey of Early Childhood Spending Across the U.S.

August 6, 2013
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This post also appeared on our sister blog, Ed Money Watch.

States invested slightly more money into early childhood education in 2013 compared to 2012, according to a new survey of 21 states from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). That’s a reassuring trend, given that most states are still treading water after the financial recession. But it may not be the whole story.

The Way We Talk: Accountability

August 5, 2013
The Way We Talk

This is the second in a series of posts reflecting on terminology pervading today’s polarizing debates about American education. In each post, we ask how various buzzwords—“professionalism,” “accountability,” and the like—influence the conversations we have. What are the strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots that come with framing our arguments in each of these terms? The hope is that assessing the implications of the way we talk will prompt more productive discussions about improving PreK-12 education.


I. Holding ourselves to account

Last week, I wrote about the advantages and disadvantages of approaching education policy in terms of professionalism. This week, we’ll take a look at accountability, the regnant ideal guiding most education reformers today. Indeed, the last two presidents have made it the cornerstone of their education agendas.

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