(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Patty Murray (D- Wash.) today addressed the 25th annual Infant and Early Childhood Education Conference at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue. Murray, a former preschool teacher and a current member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, has been a Senate champion of early healthcare – including prenatal care – and early education for children.
"As a mother and a former pre-school teacher, I know how important the early years are to a child's development," Murray said. "In fact, I remember kids coming in on the first day of school in my pre-school class. Many of the children who were not in high-quality preschool programs came to school already behind their peers, and too many of them spend the rest of their lives behind, trying to catch up," she told the audience.
Murray's remarks focused on the importance of Medicaid, Head Start, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Murray has spoken out strongly against proposed Bush Administration cuts of $14 billion to Medicaid. She also updated the audience on the upcoming HELP Committee markup and Senate reauthorization of Head Start. The Bush Administration has proposed that some of the funding in the reauthorization should go to states in the form of block grants, a proposal that Murray says are a first step in the dismantling of the program.
Murray also spoke about her work on the recent reauthorization of the IDEA, a program crucial to learning-disabled students who come from highly mobile living situations such as children who are homeless, in military or foster families, or from migrant-working families. Murray proposed an amendment, which was accepted to the reauthorization, that increased access to special education services for these children in school and for early intervention services for children before they enter the public school system. Murray's amendment also strengthened early intervention services for poor, homeless, and foster children.
In spite of a Republican budget resolution for fiscal year 2006 that guts education and healthcare programs relied upon by children from poor families, Murray vowed to continue fighting for these programs.
"It's a tough year for the budget, and for the programs we know are doing the most good for women and children in our state," Murray said. "But I want you to know today that, as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I'll fight to get every possible dollar to ensure that our children get the good, early start they need," she said.
Senator Murray's full remarks follow:
It's great to be here with all of you today. And it's especially an honor to address you at the 25th anniversary of your conference. I know how important it is that you get together each year to share your experiences and your ideas, and I'm so glad to be here today to talk about progress – and challenges – as we work to give our children the early start they need.
First and foremost, let me begin by thanking you. Whether you're a health care provider, a child care staff member, a special educator or a parent of a child with special needs, or whether you represent a government agency or university, I want you to know that I sincerely appreciate all your efforts on behalf of our kids. You're on the front lines, and you're making sure our kids have the opportunity to realize their dreams by preparing them for school and the future.
Today, I'd like to let you know that I'm aware of just how important it is that we get involved in children's health and education early. I'd like to talk to you about three programs that are critical in getting our children the early care and education they need – Medicaid, Head Start, and IDEA.
And I'd also like to update you on what's happening back in Washington, D.C. on each of these programs. I want you to leave here today energized to advocate on behalf of the children of Washington state. And I think it's essential that you know what's going on at the federal level so that your advocacy can be as informed and effective as possible.
My Healthcare Philosophy
Before I turn to my discussion of Medicaid, Head Start, and IDEA, I'd like to briefly share with you my philosophy on infant and early childhood development. And, you know, when it comes to infant and early childhood development, we share the same priorities. As a mother and a former pre-school teacher, I know how important the early years are to a child's development.
In fact, I remember kids coming in on the first day of school in my pre-school class. Almost immediately, I could tell which children had benefited by getting the care and early education they needed to put them on the right track. Many of the children who were not in high-quality preschool programs came to school already behind their peers. As you know, it can be difficult for children to make up that lost ground, and too many of them spend the rest of their lives behind, trying to catch up.
I've seen it happen. And that's why my philosophy on infant and childhood development is based on a continuum. This continuum begins with a healthy pregnancy and continues into the school years. We know this means providing quality prenatal care and continuing to provide prevention-based care that includes immunizations and screenings for both mother and child, along with early intervention and education. It's only through a comprehensive approach that allows us to coordinate health, nutrition, and education programs that we can provide our children and their parents with a foundation for success in school.
We Must Support Medicaid
And that's why it's so important that we support safety net programs Medicaid. Medicaid is a lifeline for low-income women and their families, so any cuts will disproportionately affect them. Currently 71% of adult Medicaid beneficiaries are low-income women. 40% of single mothers are covered under Medicaid. In Washington state 42.5% of all births in the state are covered by Medicaid, and Medicaid ensures access to comprehensive prenatal care for these women. Medicaid is also the largest single source of health care coverage for children in this country. In fact, half of the 53 million Medicaid enrollees are children, with one in four children in this country relying on Medicaid for coverage.
Considering all the benefits provided by Medicaid and the growing crisis of the uninsured, I believe we should be talking about strengthening the program. But as you know, in this year's budget -- the Bush Administration has supported $14 million in arbitrary and damaging cuts to Medicaid.
Now, I know we've heard that this the President's budget proposal simply slows the growth in Medicaid. But, are we seeing a slowing in the growth of demand, medical costs, or new technology? Of course not.
The fact is, to achieve savings, states simply have no choice but to drop beneficiaries from coverage – or reduce benefits. But we know this would have disastrous effects here in Washington state, and all over the country.
Some in Washington, D.C., who want to attack this vital program say that Medicaid is being misused and dollars are being wasted. Well, to that I say that I know we can provide incentives to use limited dollars more wisely. And that's why I support the Medicaid Commission to study how we can best utilize Medicaid dollars, without simply cutting beneficiaries.
Yet, it's also important that we remember Medicaid is still far more cost effective than private health insurance. Medicaid spends 30% less per adult than private coverage, and Medicaid costs have been growing at slightly more than half of the rate of the cost of private insurance. So, the fact is that Medicaid works. And while the final number of the proposed cuts is yet to be determined, I know that any cut in Medicaid – even one dollar – will hurt poor women and children.
It will make all of your jobs that much more challenging – and that's why I plan to fight these cuts in every way I can. Although it's a tough year for the budget, I hope for a balanced Commission that is able to make recommendations allowing us to improve the program without taking away this important lifeline for children's health and development.
I also want to make clear that I will continue to use my position on the Labor HHS Subcommittee to fight for programs like the Maternal-Child Health Block Grant, the Preventative Health Block Grant, CDC Birth Defect Prevention, and Nutritional Assistance that fill the gaps in Medicaid.
We Should Keep Head Start Strong
But I know that it's not only about the physical health of a child – often, there are economic challenges to overcome. That's why I support Head Start – because it's a comprehensive program. The fact is, we should not be making an either/or choice between meeting children's physical, social, and emotional needs or their literacy needs – any preschool teacher will tell you we have to do both.
And you know, in my time in the United States Senate, I've spent a lot of time in Head Start centers here in our state, and I can tell you that everywhere I go I see Head Start doing both. It's not just teaching kids – it's changing lives.
Currently, more than 900,000 children are participating in Head Start – nearly all of them low income, and the majority of them well below national norms for literacy and language. About one-quarter -- or 250,000 -- of these children do not speak English as a first language. Another 70,000 have speech and language delays. And nearly one-fifth of these children have witnessed domestic violence or have been exposed to violence in their community.
Head Start is a comprehensive solution to these problems. Not only does it help kids hit the ground running with their reading and social skills, but it also provides great health outcomes. Annually, hundreds of thousands of children in Head Start programs receive medical treatment. Head Start provides meals and snacks – sometimes the only meals they will get. Head Start works with families to ensure children have check ups, screenings, and dental care. And Head Start provides parent education and involvement programs to strengthen and support families.
Now, if you ask me, this sounds like a program that should be expanded to reach every American child who needs it. It sounds to me like a program that should never have to justify its existence or fight for its funding. Yet, as you know, the President has put forth proposals for Head Start reauthorization that could dismantle the program as we know it.
One proposal that I continue to be very concerned about is block granting. The extra layer of bureaucracy that block granting would add to Head Start is not only unnecessary, but it undermines this important program's effectiveness – and we all know it's a first step towards de-funding Head Start.
The HELP Committee is currently working on the Head Start reauthorization, and as a member of that Committee I will work on strengthening the program, and fighting proposals -- like block grants that would weaken it. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I'll keep fighting for increased funding for Head Start that is not attached to any form of block granting. I believe that any honest discussion of improving education in our country must include strengthening Head Start.
IDEA: Making a Good Program Even Better
And it's also crucial that such a discussion confront the developmental disabilities so many of our young children face. As with the other challenges they must overcome, it's critical that we get developmentally disabled children services as early as possible. And that's why the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is so important.
Since Congress recently reauthorized the IDEA, I'd like to take a few moments to talk to you about that bill and how it will benefit developmentally disabled children.
Part of the new bill focuses on early intervention services for children with disabilities. It maintains early intervention and preschool special education programs for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with disabilities. This includes allowing states to give parents the choice to have their child continue early intervention services until the age of five.
The bill also requires early intervention services provided to children age 0-3 with a developmental delay in their physical, cognitive, communication, social or emotional, or adaptive development. The new bill also increases the focus of early intervention services on achieving school readiness, by incorporating science-based pre-literacy, language, and numeric skills work.
It also requires states to set a rigorous developmental delay standard that triggers eligibility for early intervention services in every state, including a new mandate to serve infants who are – abused, neglected, drug-exposed or exposed to violence.
But, in addition to these improvements, there were also other measures that -- during reauthorization -- I specifically worked to include in the bill. I knew that it was necessary to improve disability services for homeless and foster children, and other children who are highly mobile, such as children with disabilities in military families, and in migrant and seasonal farmworker families.
So I crafted an amendment to IDEA that sought to provide – increased access to special education services for these children in school and for early intervention services for kids before they enter the public school system. To strengthen early intervention services, my amendment improved coordination between McKinney-Vento and IDEA and overall representation of homeless and foster children in IDEA. It required that states meet the requirements of the McKinney-Vento law, and also strengthened and expanded early intervention services for these vulnerable populations.
I'm glad my amendment made it into the final bill, because I know how badly disabled homeless and foster children need that extra help and care.
So that's some of what I'm doing in Washington, D.C., as your partner at the federal level. It's a tough year for the budget, and a tough year for the programs we know are doing the most good for women and children in our state. But I want you to know today that, as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I'll fight to get every possible dollar to ensure that our children get the good, early start they need.
I know the early years are the most important years, and I'm going to keep fighting in the United States Senate to see that all our children have a chance to dream big, and follow those dreams wherever they lead.