Members of Congress are home for the summer, meeting with constituents, learning more about issues in their districts and preparing for the November election. They get back to D.C. in early September, just a few days after Washington’s school kids head to the classroom.
Then, Congress will resume the debate about our national priorities – a debate that very directly concerns every Washington child who’s entering a classroom for the first time.
The first five years of life have a deep and durable influence on the rest – they’re the time when the fundamental architecture of the mind is built. Our public resources for the very young– from Early Head Start to Head Start to child care funds – affect children’s ability to spend their early years in enriching environments that serve them well in school and in life.
A wealth of data shows that these programs close the opportunity gap. Parents have seen that they work. Many lawmakers know that without them, we’ll neither lower spending nor create broadly shared prosperity. And yet they’re under threat.
Last August Congress agreed to schedule a set of automatic, arbitrary cuts to spur themselves toward a smarter alternative. Kids, who already share in very little of our nation’s resources, would get even less. Here in Washington, 1,465 fewer children would be served by Head Start, 2,390 fewer kids could enroll in affordable child care and 16,175 participants would be cut from the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.
Unless Congress agrees on a more finely tuned approach to the deficit, these cuts will take effect in January.
In order to replace these cuts with a more sustainable approach, the House and Senate need to agree on some smart alternatives. The House has passed a budget that that did away with the automatic cuts but instead hurt other, currently protected services, like Apple Health for Kids and Basic Food.
The federal budget profoundly influences the future of Washington’s kids. And what’s happening there is truly troubling. The declines in federal investment in children poses a particular threat to children of color, who are changing the face of America. And by almost every indicator, from health coverage to high school graduation, systems designed to serve kids do a worse job for children of color. These failures are key reasons for our state’s opportunity gap. That’s a big problem, not just for the children but for their parents, teachers, friends, families and community members – in short, for our whole country.
People in both parties believe that kids need greater investment, from early childhood education to college. The Senate has offered one way to move our values closer to reality: they have passed a proposal that would allow tax cuts to expire for the richest 2 percent of taxpayers – making sure everyone pays their fair share. That’s a fitting response to the opportunity gap.
Advocates can insist that lawmakers take action to avoid arbitrary, unfair, automatic cuts to services that work. The consequences of inaction are to shortchange our children in favor of tax breaks for those who don’t need them.
*Photo above right by Tegra Stone Nuess.