COVID-19, News

Governors press for greater funding for early childhood learning in COVID recovery

Oregon Governor Kate Brown

Governor Kate Brown believes before the country can return to some sense of normalcy, it’s going to need to invest more in Pre-K and early childcare workers.

“Our providers shouldn’t have to choose between their health and safety and obviously caring for their children and keeping their businesses afloat,” said the Oregon governor on Monday in an online panel discussion organized by The Hunt Institute.

The COVID-19 crisis and the closing of childcare centers nationwide has underscored historic inequities that have perpetuated in the profession; inequities that need to be addressed as other professionals think about returning to the workforce.

“Certainly the early learning workforce has been undervalued and underpaid. This is a profession made up primarily of women and disproportionately women of color,” explained Brown.

Governor Roy Cooper said while North Carolina has been a model for early childhood education for 25 years, the pandemic has turned everyone’s life upside down.

“We have in this difficult time, tried to up the pay for our early childhood educators, paying co-payments for our front line healthcare workers, making sure early childhood education is as effective as possible and as safe as possible during this pandemic,” said Gov. Cooper.

Even before the pandemic it’s estimated nearly half of North Carolina’s children were living in child care deserts, where there aren’t enough child care slots for the number children in a community.

Illinois Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton

Illinois Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton  stressed the need for early childhood education to be more equitable as lawmakers grapple with the pandemic relief measures and staggering unemployment.

“It is our duty not just as policymakers, but also as caring human beings to break the cycle of under-serving our children who need the most help, especially those in marginalized and under resourced communities,” Stratton said.

For those who would would dismiss the need to invest more in such programs, Lt. Governor Statton said science has proven 85% of the brain development happens in the first three years of life.

“When children are abused or neglected,or when they go hungry or homeless, they are in a constant state of trauma. And this constant state of trauma leads to toxic stress and changes a child’s life forever.”

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer told the panel high-quality early childhood programs should be viewed as a smart, long-term investment.

“Investing in early childhood education is essential in eliminating the disparities for low-income children who fall behind in third-grade reading, that dictates the trajectory of the rest of the lives,” said Whitmer in advocating for full-day pre-school programs.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, President and CEO of The Education Trust, said it’s very difficult to reopen childcare centers without better coronavirus testing and a clear national strategy.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King

“It didn’t have to be this way,” explained King. “Our international competitors had coherent strategies, so they are in a position to be able to reopen schools and childcare,” explained King.

King said Congress must address these shortcomings and start by earmarking more money for food insecure families.

“Forty percent of Black and Latino families are struggling to get food reliably to their kids. So we need a very significant increase in SNAP benefits. We need an extension of pandemic EBT, which allows free and reduced price lunch meals to be turned into an ATM like card that families can use to get groceries.”

The Hunt Institute along with The Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation will continue the conversation on Wednesday with the virtual premiere of the documentary Starting at Zero: Reimagining Education in America, that focuses on where the U.S. currently stands in 0-8 years education.

Wednesday’s online event is free to the public at 1:30pm with an encore screening at 7:30pm. Click here to register.

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