This blog post is part of our edCored series on education funding. If you want to be notified when new content is published in this month-long series, please subscribe to the LEV Blog’s RSS feed or once-a-day email digest.
“Schooling after the second grade plays only a minor role in creating or reducing gaps.”
This staggering statement comes from a recent article in American Educator by Nobel-winning economist James Heckman. Need more evidence? How about this recent analysis of Fordham Institute data conducted by K5 Learning.
“In this massive study of tens of thousands students, children who performed in the bottom 1/3 in reading or math in grade 3 had less than a 1% chance of being high achievers by grade 8. Even average students in grade 3, (between 40 and 60 percentile) had less than a 5% chance of becoming high achievers later”.
K5 learning uses this data to say that “by grade 3, the academic ship has sailed.” This may be an overstatement, but not by much. Achievement gaps are visible as early as nine months old, but high-quality and effective early childhood education has the power to stop the gaps before they start or erase them once they have begun.
What all of this really boils down to is that most states in the nation, including Washington state, are spending millions upon millions upon millions of dollars on educational interventions and remediation that come too little too late for most kids and have only modest impacts when they do work.
Let’s look at education funding in Washington state. Put aside for the moment, if you can, the massive cuts K-12 has taken over the last 3 years (totaling over $4 billion). We are still spending $13.8 billion for the next two years. That is over half a billion dollars per grade per year.
So, how much do we spend on early childhood education? $388 million for two years. That is about $39 million each year for every age 0-5.But here is the kicker: Nearly 70% of that money comes from the federal government. Washington state only spends $69 million in state funds per year for all kids 0-5 or less than $14 million per age group.
Are your eyes glazed over? How about a chart that will make them pop right out of your head? If you squint really really hard you might be able to spy the early learning funds…or not.
(Just for fun, I thought it would be illuminating to see how tall you had to make this graph to even get a glimmer of the $13.5 million to show up. See at the end of this blog for the tallest graph I have ever seen.)
What does this mean? It means that during the years when we have the best chance of dealing with achievement gaps and getting children prepared for school, each year Washington state spends under 3% on early learning per age of what it spends per age group in K12. Less than 3%!
And given the current economic conditions, it is unlikely our early learning system will get the kind of infusion of state resources that would lead to significant improvements for our children. In fact, with the special session looming and none of the early learning funds protected like that of K-12, we are in serious danger of losing a lot of the little we do have.
The only likely source of additional funds for early learning is if we win the federal Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant. Washington is eligible for up to $60 million over 5 years. It is not nearly enough but it is something. And in this climate, that something means everything.
Washington submitted our application for the Early Learning Challenge grant last Tuesday. We have a good chance at winning this one based on the merits of the application and our long-term plans for quality early learning in Washington state (The announcement will be made in mid-late December.)
However, there is one looming issue that could bring a quick end to our chances. Washington is the only state going into a special session to cut the budget during the application review period. And if we make certain reductions or eliminations during the special session, Washington might just cut itself right out of the running, Here is a list of ‘critical to maintain’ programs in order to remain competitive for this grant.
- WaKIDS: The RTT-ELC grant application requires a statewide kindergarten assessment. If WA eliminated or reduced funding for WaKIDS in the special session that would signal to the Feds that Washington is not committed to meeting our application goal of full-scale by 2014-2015 school year.
- Full-Day K: WaKIDS is tied to state-funded FDK schools. If we cut funding for FDK (essentially delaying the FDK roll-out) we would be doubling the WaKIDS work for Kindergarten teachers who would have to do the assessments and parent/provider connections with twice the number of kids and families.
- Child Care Resource & Referral Network. The R&R is the contracted agency to do the quality improvement work for the State Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). If we cut those funds during the special, we are signaling that we are not committed to meeting the goal of reaching scale with QRIS by 2015 (as is required in the grant).
- Home Visiting Match: Only states that receive the federal Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program grant are eligible in the for the RTT-ELC grant contest. Therefore, if we reduce state funds for home visiting (thus reducing the required maintenance of effort) we put our MIECHV grant in jeopardy which then might negate our eligibility for the RTTT-ELC grant.
And finally, any reductions to our state’s small but high-quality Prekindergarten program for low-income children (ECEAP) are to be avoided like the plague. While cuts to the above programs directly impact our eligibility for the RTTT-ELC grant, general reductions to early learning funding, especially to ECEAP (the largest outlay of state funds to early learning) would also likely put Washington in a negative light during the application review period.
If we are ever going to change the landscape of learning in Washington State and our long-term economic prospects, Washington has to get extremely serious about early learning soon. We have a very long way to go, but we have started on the journey. We must go forward. If we don’t we are not only going backward in funding, we are going back on Washington’s constitutional promise to our children.
As columnist Nicholas Kristof said powerfully in his recent Op-Ed in the New York Times: “…the question isn’t whether we can afford early childhood education, but whether we can afford not to provide it. We can pay for prisons or we can pay, less, for early childhood education to help build a fairer and more equitable nation.”
Tallest Graph in History