Preschool teachers and President Obama’s jobs proposal

There have been some blog posts about making sure that early childhood programs are included in any new jobs legislation.  It is therefore important that the just-released (on September 12) text of the “American Jobs Act” proposed by President Obama does include early childhood educators in the bill.

More specifically, in section 206, states are authorized to “reserve [up to] 10 percent of their [teacher stabilization] grants for State-funded preschool programs”. (This quotation comes from the “Sectional Analysis” provided by the White House for the actual legal text of the bill.)  Section 212 provides $30 billion for such teacher stabilization grants to states, so potentially up to $3 billion could go to state-funded preschool programs.

The funds are proposed to be appropriated by the federal government by the end of fiscal year 2012, but states have until the end of fiscal year 2013 to actually obligate the funds. Therefore, the potential extra preschool funding over the two fiscal years of fiscal year 2012 and fiscal year 2013 averages about $1.5 billion. This is still a very large amount compared to what states currently spend on preschool, which is estimated to be $5.4 billion annually. It is so much larger that I doubt whether most states would want to expand preschool to that extent with temporary federal dollars, so the amount that would actually go to preschool would probably be considerably less. However, these funds would clearly make a significant difference.

Section 208 clarifies that these preschool funds must go to preserve or increase the number of early childhood educator jobs: “This section limits the use of funds by State-funded preschool programs to those necessary to retain early childhood educators, recall or rehire former early childhood educators, or hire new early childhood educators to provide early learning services, and requires the funds to be obligated by September 30, 2013.” (Quotation from Sectional Analysis of the bill)  As the text of the bill clarifies, this means that funds must go to compensation of early childhood educators, or support services needed to rehire or retain early childhood educators.

The definition of “early childhood educator” in section 211 of the bill text also adds some important detail. Early childhood educators must work directly with children in low-income communities. This might restrict the use of these funds in universal pre-K programs. Early childhood educators are also required to have “completed a baccalaureate or advanced degree in early childhood development or early childhood education, or in a field related to early childhood education.” (This quotation comes from the actual bill text.) This provision may add impetus to efforts to require additional educational credentials for preschool teachers.

The law also includes maintenance of effort requirement. These maintenance of effort requirements are complicated, and are only detailed in the full text of the bill (see section 209).These MOE requirements appear to require that states in fiscal years 2012 and 2013 cannot reduce BOTH total nominal spending for all educational programs (early education, K-12, and higher education) from their previous year’s  level AND also reduce the percentage of their available revenue that goes to education from the previous year’s level. It will require further analysis to see how binding these MOE requirements will be for some states.  The Secretary of Education can waive the MOE requirement.

If these provisions survive the legislative process, they could make a significant difference to state-funded pre-K programs in fiscal years 2012 and 2013.

About timbartik

Tim Bartik is a senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, a non-profit and non-partisan research organization in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His research specializes in state and local economic development policies and local labor markets.
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2 Responses to Preschool teachers and President Obama’s jobs proposal

  1. Doesn’t it make more sense to include Early Childhood Educators of private preschool programs who have a BA Degree and work in highy quality preschool centers that are accreditied? The majority of working middle income parents use these services the most and contribute to the economy by paying taxes and buying goods and services. When will government get it.

    • timbartik says:

      Thank you for your comment, Roseann.

      As far as I can tell, states would be free to use any funds they received under this program, and decided to use for state pre-K programs, for private preschool providers as well as public preschool providers. So if this portion of the Jobs bill is enacted, each state could decide what role should be played by private preschool providers.

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