The White House budget puts America's young children last

The White House budget puts America's young children last
© Getty Images

For a businessman who has promised to make America great again, President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchumer unsatisfied with AG nominee Barr's position on Mueller probe House passes disaster relief bill to fund government through Feb. 8 Overnight Defense: Four Americans killed in Syria suicide attack | State of the Union becomes latest shutdown flashpoint | Missile defense review on track for Thursday release MORE has produced a budget that fails miserably by cutting our investments in children now, while running up a debt they will have to pay later. It may sound trite, but today’s young children truly are the only future for America. Yet, one in four of our children under school age lives in poverty, and nearly half live in low-income families. Helping their families invest in them is one of the highest payoff investments we can make in America’s future.

For example, research over several decades has shown that high-quality preschool programs can produce benefits many times their cost. But the administration’s budget ignores this, failing to make investments in Head Start needed to increase its effectiveness and cutting entirely the Preschool Development Grant program that helps states make their early education programs more effective.

ADVERTISEMENT
Last year, I co-authored a report on the state of Head Start that revealed how inadequate federal funding forces local Head Start providers to choose between increasing effectiveness and cutting the numbers of children served even though the program already cannot reach most children in poverty. The Office of Head Start recently postponed requiring programs to offer a longer day and year for four-year-olds “because the program would need to cut 41,000 slots to make the change under current funding levels.” Yet, the administration’s proposed increase in Head Start for fiscal 2019 fails to even keep pace with inflation.

Although it is a much more modest program than Head Start, 18 states rely on the federal Preschool Development Grant program, which has been an effective federal-state partnership. For example, using federal funding for the program, Rhode Island doubled the number of children in high-quality, state-funded preschool between 2014 to 2015 and 2015 to 2016. Alabama experienced a 56 percent increase in its high-quality preschool enrollment over the last year, and 75 percent of this increase in enrollment funded by federal Preschool Development Grant dollars. Yet, the administration’s proposed budget eliminates the program.

The president’s budget also fails to reflect the continuing resolution for fiscal 2018 passed by Congress to double funding for child care subsidies for low-income families, extend funding for effective home visiting programs for parents of infants and toddlers that have proven cost-effective, and expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The fate of those bipartisan steps forward is unclear.

The president’s budget does cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) support for low-income children and families. I have no doubt the program can be improved, but I find it hard to conceive of a great nation that does not feed the hungry. Even from a purely economic perspective cutting funding for children’s nutrition is an appallingly bad decision because of its negative consequences for health.

Meanwhile, this administration is also considering new rules that could deport immigrants if they receive various public benefits, such as enrolling their U.S.-born children, our youngest citizens, in Head Start or CHIP. Discouraging parents from taking advantage of such investments in their children is surely counterproductive to making America great. About the only more damaging policy I can imagine would be to take their parents away from them.

As an economist, I find this budget just doesn’t add up. To make America great, we need to invest in our children, especially the youngest who are most vulnerable. The president’s budget does exactly the opposite. I can only conclude that this is an administration that is anti-children, and in the long run that makes America weaker.

W. Steven Barnett, Ph.D., is a board of governors professor and co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.