February 17, 2011
Thank you, Principal Tolbert, for that kind introduction. It’s great to be here with you this morning.
I want to begin by thanking Principal Tolbert, Director Barbee-Matthews and everyone here at the Judy Hoyer Early Learning Center for the incredible work you do every day. Thanks to you, hundreds of children here in southern Maryland are getting the academic skills and life skills they need to thrive.
I also want to thank Jacqueline and Joan for their terrific leadership in this important area.
And I want to mention an important anniversary we’re marking this week. Two years ago this week, President Obama signed the Recovery Act. Since then, our department has helped States avoid devastating budget cuts that could have left thousands of teachers and police officers out of work, awarded over 20,000 grants to develop the cures and treatments of the future, made a historic investment in community health centers to help them serve more than three million new patients, and dramatically sped up the transition to electronic health records. In the process, we’ve created thousands of jobs across the country.
I’m mentioning this today because as part of that law, we were also able to provide new funds to help Head Start and Early Head Start serve approximately 60,000 more children and raise the bar on quality across the Head Start program. Here at Judy Hoyer, those funds allowed the center to add a new classroom, making Head Start available to 15 children who wouldn’t have had it otherwise.
We supported this investment because quality early childhood has an enormous payoff. The best science tells us that the first five years of a child’s life are the most important for healthy brain development. So centers like Judy Hoyer, which help children develop social, language, and emotional skills during these critical years, can make a difference that lasts a lifetime.
And the impact of these programs doesn’t stop with the children they serve. In an age where a growing number of jobs can be done anywhere you have a laptop computer and an internet hookup, we need to out-educate the rest of the world in order to out-compete them. And we can’t do that if our children have already fallen behind by the time they start kindergarten.
That’s why President Obama has made a strong education agenda, starting with the critical early years, a key part of his plan to win the future. We recognize that in this time of fiscal challenges, some cuts are necessary. But we also believe that these must be targeted cuts that don’t take away from the investments, such as Head Start, that contribute to economic growth.
That’s why the President’s 2012 Budget makes significant investments in early childhood education. And it’s also why we’ve said that more resources alone are not enough. Given the critical role programs like Head Start play in the lives of more than 900,000 children nationwide, we need to do everything we can to make these programs as effective as possible.
So over the last two years, our department, working with the Department of Education and early childhood educators across the country, has launched an unprecedented effort to raise the bar on quality in early childhood education. In Head Start, we’ve proposed new rules that would require low performing Head Start programs to compete for continued funding so that the best programs are the ones serving our children. We’ve also revamped the training we provide to Head Start directors and teachers to make sure we’re using the best evidence-based practices in classrooms. And, we’re working with Head Start programs around the country to track outcomes and use that data to improve the program.
The President’s budget also proposes an innovative, new Early Learning Challenge Fund: a partnership between our Department and the Department of Education, which will allow states to compete for funding to make comprehensive improvements to their early learning programs, whether it’s improving professional development or creating rating systems to help parents pick the right program and motivate those programs to improve.
In this Administration, we believe that if our children have already fallen behind the rest of the world by their fifth birthdays, we haven’t just failed them. We’ve failed ourselves. That’s why the President has laid out an agenda to help America lead the world in education in the 21st century just as we did in the 20th century. Quality early learning programs are a key part of that plan, along with innovation in public schools and assuring access to college.
This week, we also saw a very different vision for the future in the budget proposed by House Republicans. That budget contained drastic cuts for centers like the one we’re visiting today. In the short-term, these cuts provide minor savings. But in the long-term, they would be devastating to our economic growth. And they could mean that the new classroom here at Judy Hoyer is empty next school year.
When families face hard times, they don’t go right for their preschool bill or their college savings accounts. They find other areas to cut back and tighten their belts. That’s because they understand that education is one of the best investments we can make in the future.
We in the Obama Administration agree, which is why we’ll continue to work to make America’s early education system second to none.