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Early Education Press Conference

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HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

Alexandria, VA
March 7, 2014

I’m delighted to be here.  As Senator Mark Warner said, he and I have worked together and known each other for a long time.  He was a terrific leader for the Commonwealth of Virginia, and now he’s a terrific leader for the country, and it’s wonderful to be with him today.  And Congressman Moran believes passionately in this effort.  I’m glad he was able to be here this morning. And to Margaret Patterson and this incredible team at the Child and Family Network Center. This is exactly the kind of place where every child in America should have the opportunity to learn.

I’m a relatively new grandmother -- my grandson is 18 months old -- and I was telling Margaret I’m getting ready: He’s coming for a sleepover tonight.

But I’m into early childhood, personally, all over again, and I’ve watched an 18-month-old absorb information like a sponge and learn every day, take on new words and new concepts, and develop new skills.  And I think about where George will be when he gets ready for kindergarten, and where children will be if they don’t have the same kind of resources, if they don’t know language, if they don’t have number skills, if they’re not ready to sit in a chair.  And as the health secretary, as Mark said, the connection between health and education could not be stronger. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t start with a little pitch saying we’re in March, and  one of the least insured groups of professionals are early childhood workers, often in jobs where they don’t get paid enough money and often don’t have affordable health coverage. So part of the new Affordable Care Act remedies are about the workers who do this incredible work each and every day.  Part of it is about the parents, who have kids in these centers, who need to be healthy to take care of their kids, and part of it is about the kids.  People shouldn’t miss the opportunity to sign up for Marketplace health insurance by the 31st of March, the end of open enrollment.  The website is running very effectively in English and Spanish (CuidadoDeSalud.gov).

And I want to applaud Governor McAuliffe’s efforts to continue to urge Virginia to expand Medicaid, which is part of the Act.

In Virginia it would mean that 441,000 Virginians would be eligible for coverage, 100 percent of which would be picked up for the first three years by the federal government and never less than 90 percent over the course of a decade.  Without Medicaid expansion, the Commonwealth loses $4 million a day in federal funding.  It would come to Virginia to pay for those costs of uninsured families.  And in the meantime, taxpayers are picking up those costs -- I would say families are bearing those costs, and children are bearing those costs. 

Linda Smith, who is our great early childhood leader at Health and Human Services is here, and we thank her for her work.

This partnership between education and Health and Human Services could not be stronger.  It is fulfilling President Obama’s belief that all children deserve an opportunity to have the tools to allow them to succeed and prosper.  That’s part of what America is all about, and everybody deserves that fair start.  So it’s not about two cabinet secretaries, but it’s about what every parent wants for his or her child, or every grandparent wants for his or her grandchild. 

The President’s 2015 budget brings, in our Department, a couple of things to the table, and it might not be initially evident what piece of it Health and Human Services plays.  But what we have being built in the 2015 budget is really a continuum that goes from birth to kindergarten.  It has a series of steps along the way.  It starts with home visitation, and that is increased in the President’s budget, so the most vulnerable families have an opportunity to have a professional visit and get some of the tools that they need to be the best parents and teachers that a child will ever have. 

The President’s proposing an increase in our Child Care and Development Fund that would make sure that children in child care settings have the opportunity to also have educational opportunities and begin to acquire the skills they need to succeed in school.  It would make sure that about 1.4 million children receive assistance, and that’s 74,000 more children than currently are served in the program.  There’s an increase proposed of $150 million in the early Head Start-Child Care partnerships, which we’re going to start this year but want to expand in 2015.  And that will, again, bring some of the early Head Start learning skills into child care settings and be able to lift the quality of a lot of child care opportunities.  And, the budget also has what the President’s calling the Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative, and, as Senator Warner knows, it is fully paid for, this initial additional investment, by closing some of the tax loopholes.  But it would make a significant advance in both early Head Starts and home visiting, giving another 100,000 children access to early education.

But the basic idea is that all children, across this country, here in Alexandria, throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, and in every state in the country should have an opportunity to be in a high-quality learning environment and acquire social, emotional, and educational skills at the same time.  It doesn’t really matter if the child can read when she reaches kindergarten if she can’t sit in the chair and can’t listen to a teacher.  It doesn’t really matter if she knows numbers if her tooth is hurting so badly that she can’t concentrate, or that she hasn’t had breakfast that morning, so she can’t pay attention.  All of these are critical. 

This program, which is a huge investment in their future, would be paid for by a tobacco tax.  And, I have to tell you, that is a win-win situation.  What we know is that the youngest smokers in this country are very price-sensitive.  So what a tobacco tax does is it not only raises funds, but keeps younger Americans from starting smoking.  We have 4,000 kids under 18 -- 4,000 a day -- try their first cigarette, and 1,000 of them become lifetime smokers: 4,000 a day, and 1,000 of them will smoke the rest of their lives.  So a tobacco tax not only provides early childhood funding but changes those numbers pretty dramatically, and there could not be a better funding source. 

So, again, I’m delighted to be here today.  I’m really always pleased.  I told the teachers this will be by far the most fun I will have today.

I can guarantee that, but that’s a pretty low bar.

It is wonderfully inspiring to start the day.  It’s always inspiring to be with my great friend and colleague, Arne Duncan.  The children of America could not have a better advocate and a better champion than Arne Duncan.  I know Margaret used football analogies, but Arne was recently the MVP of the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. 

I think the children of America know he’s their MVP every day.  Education Secretary Arne Duncan.