President Obama and early childhood programs

The invaluable blog EarlyStories, written by Liz Willen and Sarah Garland at The Hechinger Report, links to a report from the “Obameter” of the PolitiFact project of the St. Petersburg Times. This project seeks to rate whether various campaign promises of President Obama have been fulfilled.

This particular PolitiFact report concludes that President Obama’s promise for a “Children First” agenda has been stalled. The Politifact report is largely based on the fact that Congress has not appropriated money for the Early Learning Challenge Grants or the Title I Early Childhood Grants.

More comprehensive coverage of federal early childhood funding has been reliably provided by Lisa Guernsey at Early Ed Watch at the New America Foundation. Their recent year-end report summarizes more comprehensively what has been going on with federal policy towards early childhood programs.  Politifact is right that budget initiatives such as the Early Learning Challenge Grants have not been approved. The latest Congressional action in general simply continues current federal funding through March 4, 2011 at FY 2010 levels, with no exception for early childhood programs. I haven’t seen a report on the likely outcome of the next budget fight in early 2011, but it seems politically doubtful whether this fight will lead to significant new federal funds for early childhood programs.

On the other hand, there has been some recent progress in federal policy on early childhood programs. For example, significant funding for nurse home-visitation programs and other proven home visitation programs was included in the federal health care reform bill.

The Nurse Family Partnership is an example of a home visitation program that has rigorous evidence on long-term effectiveness. In my book, Investing in Kids, I estimate that each dollar a state invests in NFP will provide $1.85 in economic development benefits for a state economy, and $2.47 in economic development benefits for the national economy.

The federal health care law provides $1.5 billion in funding for home visitation programs over 5 years, or an average of $300 million per year. Estimates suggest that if the NFP fully served all eligible disadvantaged first-time mothers, NFP by itself would cost $3.7 billion per year (source : estimates from chapter 4 of Investing in Kids, based on estimates by Julia Isaacs). Even with some significant state and local match, therefore, the new funding would only serve a modest proportion of the eligible population for proven home visitation programs. However, this is a start.

For example, NFP currently has a little more than 21,000 families enrolled nationwide. The program costs $4,500 per year to fund. Even without a state and local match, $300 million per year in additional funding would be sufficient to add over 66,000 families to NFP, quadrupling the program. Of course, not all the federal program funding will go to NFP. Still, compared to current resources going to home visitation programs, the federal funding under health care reform is a large expansion.


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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