I love birthdays -- it’s a chance to celebrate life and mark the start of another trip around the sun. And this week marks the 54th birthday of one of our country’s most successful early learning programs: Head Start!
Happy Birthday Head Start! Instead of balloons and cake to celebrate though, we thought it would be more fitting to help guarantee that millions of children and families continue to benefit from the educational and developmental bright start and the pathway to economic stability that Head Start provides.
As a country we need to do better by our children -- we owe it to their health, happiness, and individual needs and dreams to provide them with every opportunity to thrive. And that starts at the very beginning. Children and families across the country are continually denied access to affordable high-quality early learning programs, like pre-k and childcare, that help build a strong foundation for kids and families to thrive. Families struggle to get to work while they search to find places for their children to be safe, loved, and learning: Nearly half of American families live in “childcare deserts” where there aren’t enough childcare options. Even when families can find childcare, it's often unaffordable. Infant childcare costs more than public college tuition in a majority of states. So it is no surprise, but no less unacceptable, when we see that 83% of parents with children under the age of five struggle to access affordable, high-quality early learning programs for their children. The good news is: we know Head Start and Early Head Start are a win-win on all counts.
This is a big deal. Over one million young children and pregnant people are served by Head Start every year in centers, family homes, and in family child care homes in urban, suburban, and rural communities throughout the country. Head Start and Early Head Start lift a diverse group of children and families—37% are Hispanic/Latino, 30% are Black, 44% are white, 2% are American Indian/Alaskan Native, and 1% are Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. Collectively, these programs promote school readiness and health for low-income students, help break the cycle of poverty, boost the economy, and strengthen family well-being by supporting parents and families working to achieve their own goals such as housing or job stability and continued education.
Why does Head Start matter? Studies show that Head Start students are more likely to complete high school, attend college, and even have better health and economic outcomes. They are also less likely to have been charged with a crime or become a teenage parent.
This is why, as we head into crafting a federal budget in the coming months, we need Congress to protect the funding of Head Start and make additional investments so we can build on past success and make sure all children that qualify for the program are able to access it. Right now, only 31% of income-eligible three and four year old children are being reached by Head Start nationally. It is even lower for Early Head Start where only 6% of eligible infants and toddlers are being served by the program.
Investing in Head Start is not just the right thing for Congress to do, it also helps our economy and the voters support it! In fact, a 2018 poll found that 80% of voters (both Republicans and Democrats) agree that our elected leaders should provider greater funding so more families can access Head Start and Early Head Start.
You and I know that millions of families (and our economy) are boosted by Head Start every year when kids are able to get the education they need and parents are able to return to work knowing their child is in a safe and nurturing environment. Let’s make sure our members of Congress know and fight for it, too.
P.S. Can you share your Head Start experience with us? Being able to share the stories of real parents makes a difference in convincing lawmakers to support high-quality, affordable early learning programs like Head Start. Share your experiences with us here.