By Neil Bomberg
This is the third in a series of articles about the way in which the House, Senate and Administration propose to deal with federal budget items that are important to cities and towns.
In one of the rare moments of bipartisanship in the federal budget process, the House, Senate and President appear to agree on basic funding levels for K-12 programs and special education. While there may be programmatic differences - the House majority does not support many the initiatives put forward over the past four years by the Administration including Race to the Top and Promise Neighborhoods - the overall funding for the major programs that cities and towns care about will be similar; funding includes about $14.5 billion for Title I programs designed to help ensure that economically disadvantaged students receive a quality education and $11.5 billion for special education programs.
Though neither will be at levels thought appropriate by the National League of Cities, the good news is that funding for these programs is not likely to drop below 2012 levels, and may even exceed those levels.
The significant new initiative that the Administration has announced and which will prove costly if adopted is universal pre-kindergarten. The proposal is based on significant research which shows that for every dollar invested, seven dollars is returned to the economy through greater productivity, spending and taxes, and reduced social and criminal expenditures.
As proposed by the Administration, the 2014 budget request includes $1.3 billion to launch a 10-year, $75 billion mandatory investment in the Preschool for All Program. These funds would support state efforts to provide access to high quality preschool for every young person, and would (from the Administration's perspective) provide the foundation each child requires to succeed in school and eliminate the readiness gap that exists between children from low-income families and those from higher income families.
The funds would be made available to states to help them create pre-K programs that include highly qualified staff, professional development funds, and low staff to child ratios in the class room. Funds would also be used to create full day programs that are developmentally appropriate, with salaries for teachers that are equivalent to those earned by elementary and secondary educators.
If the program were to become law, states would be required to contribute non-federal matching funds, with a reduced match in exchange for serving children from middle class families after states reach their enrollment benchmarks for low-income children.
Allocations to states would be based on each state's relative share of four-year-olds from families at or below 200 percent of the poverty level.
NLC has long supported pre-school programs such as Head Start, Early Head Start and Early Learning that help young children develop the skills they need to succeed in the classroom and subsequently, in the world of work.