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Murray Gives Remarks on Early Childhood Education as a Budget Priority; Calls for Focus on Long-Term Challenges Instead of Artificial Crises

Jun 25 2013

Murray at the Center for American Progress: “We need to prioritize the kinds of policies that encourage broad-based economic growth in the future, and also help families right now. Expanding access to quality early childhood education offers us the chance to do both.”

Washington, D.C— Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) gave a keynote address at the Center for American Progress on the current budget debate and the need to expand access to quality early childhood education. Senator Murray called for an end to the cycle of governing by crisis so that we can focus on priorities like early education, which help families now and strengthen our economy over the long term. 

Watch video of the remarks.

Key excerpts from Murray’s remarks (full text below):

“I believe our budget, and the debate around developing a budget, should be about our values and priorities—about what kind of country we want to be in the future.  But in recent years, our budget debate has been too focused on averting artificial crises.

“This has made it extremely difficult to focus on policies that confront real, long-term problems, like maintaining our leadership in the 21st century and continuing to grow our middle class. Expanding access to quality early childhood education is exactly this kind of policy.”

“I approach this issue as a mom who knows what a relief it is to feel confident that your child is not just safe, but thriving, when you can’t be with them.”

“I approach this issue as a former preschool teacher, who saw every day the difference a strong start can make for a child.”

“…inside-the-beltway brinkmanship affects families and communities across the country. Not just now, but decades into the future. Because while we have been focused on threats of default, government shutdown, and the impact of sequestration,  other countries are thinking far down the road—and rightly investing in their workers’ skills and knowledge.”

“Sequestration has made devastating cuts to many of the programs that support early learning and development. This is totally unacceptable to me.”

“If we want to maintain our leadership and continue to grow our middle class, we have to shift our focus. We need to prioritize the kinds of policies that encourage broad-based economic growth in the future, and also help families right now. Expanding access to quality early childhood education offers us the chance to do both.”

“Just a few weeks ago, a teacher in Washington state told me that while some of her students are practicing writing their names on their work, others still need to learn how to hold a pencil. So those children are, even at a very early age, already playing catch-up.”

“…whether or not we expand access to quality early education certainly has consequences for our economic future.  But it also has economic consequences right now for millions of working parents. This is especially true for working mothers.”

“We’ve got decades of research showing that quality early childhood education can have enormous benefits for young children—and our country as a whole. And we know that expanding quality, affordable early education could help millions of working parents—and parents who want to work—right now. We have a moral imperative to stop just talking about this and start getting something done.”

“I know all of us here realize how important this is. And unfortunately, I think we also appreciate how difficult it’s going to be to get some of my colleagues on board….I’m ready to get to work—but I’m going to need your help…”

“…today, our country is in very large part the product of decisions that were made decades ago. The decision to make public education a priority… The decision to help students from all backgrounds and income levels get a college degree…The decision to heavily invest in innovation …And today, our decisions will have just as much impact on the next generation.”

What others are saying about this effort:

First Five Years Fund:

"Sen. Patty Murray, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, spoke today at the Center for American Progress about the need to invest in a better future by expanding access to quality early childhood education. The First Five Years Fund commends the Senator for her longstanding commitment to a common sense solution that is proven to provide children with a strong start and a foundation for success in school, career and life-an investment that pays dividends for life to children, families, taxpayers and the nation.

"As Sen. Murray clearly states, investments in early learning are an economic no-brainer. Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman's research clearly shows the greatest return on investment comes from investing in high quality early childhood programs for disadvantaged children from birth to five. We are so pleased that the Senator recognizes these benefits.

"Sen. Murray said that the federal budget is a framework for what we want our country to look like, not just in the next few years, but decades from now and  rightly understands that increasing investments in our children will help grow our middle class and support families now as well as improve our children's futures. As a former preschool teacher, Sen. Murray understands first-hand what a difference early education can make in the lives of children and families. We applaud her leadership on this issue and for prioritizing cost-effective investments that have the power to improve children's lives and grow a more prosperous America.”

Matthew Melmed, Executive Director of ZERO TO THREE, National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families:

"Chairwoman Murray is to be congratulated for her foresight in recognizing the importance of investment in our youngest children. As a Senator and Chairwoman of the Budget Committee, Senator Murray draws on her experience teaching preschool—and as a mom—to inform her actions and wisdom in addressing our budget problems. She recognizes the significant return on investing in our youngest children, and we commend Senator Murray for her leadership in valuing our nation's infants and toddlers," said Matthew Melmed, Executive Director of ZERO TO THREE, National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families.

National Association for the Education of Young Children:

“More than ever before,  we know how to help children from birth be successful in school and in life, but we have too many gaps in resources and policies to do so.  We applaud Senator Murray for putting forward a budget proposal that recognizes the importance of greater investments in  high-quality early childhood education – home visiting, child care and Head Start, and prekindergarten – to America’s prosperity and potential. “ 

The National Women’s Law Center:

“The National Women’s Law Center applauds Senator Murray’s efforts to make high-quality early education a reality for children,” said Helen Blank, NWLC Director of Child Care and Early Learning.  “When children are given a strong start, they thrive and continue to do better in grade school and beyond.  It’s time for America to support a practical investment that yields high returns for its children, parents and communities.”

Full text of Murray’s remarks:

“We’re here as experts, as teachers, and as advocates. We understand what expanding access to quality early education could mean for our children, and for our country’s future.

“But we are far from alone in thinking this way. I hear often from constituents who feel the same, including some who might surprise you.

“I recently hosted an education roundtable at a school in Spokane. I was there with teachers, the superintendent, parents –people you would expect at an education event. But we were also joined by the local sheriff – a big, burly guy named Ozzie Knezovich.

“After the teachers and parents spoke about the importance of early education for their community, it was Sheriff Knezovich’s turn. Now, he doesn’t work with preschoolers. But he talked about the very low high school graduation rates among the people he brings into the police station. He believes early education could have made a big difference for them—because it did for him.

“As Sheriff Knezovich finished his remarks he said ‘Listen, I know how important Head Start is – I was a Head Start kid, and I wouldn’t be here today if my community didn’t invest in me when I was young.’

“The Sheriff was thinking big-picture and long-term. I believe our government should be doing the same. Unfortunately, the conversation around early childhood education shows that we aren’t—and that we desperately need to.

“Today, as a preschool teacher turned chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, I’d like to talk with you about why I think this is, and what can be done about it. I believe our budget, and the debate around developing a budget, should be about our values and priorities—about what kind of country we want to be in the future. But in recent years, our budget debate has been too focused on averting artificial crises.

“This has made it extremely difficult to focus on policies that confront real, long-term problems, like maintaining our leadership in the 21st century and continuing to grow our middle class. Expanding access to quality early childhood education is exactly this kind of policy. It is a proven opportunity to help our kids—and therefore our country—succeed in the future. It would help millions of working parents right now. And we’ve got to get it done.

“Early childhood education is personally very important to me—it’s actually the reason I got my start in politics.

“When my children were much younger I found out their wonderful preschool program was being closed down by the state. So I bundled my children into the car and went off to the state capitol to explain to them why they just couldn’t cut this program. But when I got there the legislators told me there was nothing someone like me could do to save our preschool program. One legislator in particular told me I was just a mom in tennis shoes—and I had no chance of changing things.

“Well I heard what they had to say—but I didn’t listen. Instead, I picked up the phone and started calling other parents. And they called more parents from all across the state. We wrote letters, we held rallies, and when all was said and done, the legislature kept the funding for our preschool program in the budget! I went on to teach at that preschool and then to serve on my local school board.

“Throughout my career I have never forgotten what education means to the families who are counting on us to get this right. I approach this issue as a mom who knows what a relief it is to feel confident that your child is not just safe, but thriving, when you can’t be with them. I approach this issue as a former preschool teacher, who saw every day the difference a strong start can make for a child.  And I approach this issue as chairman of the Senate budget committee, a senior member of the HELP committee, and a senior member of the Appropriations committee.

“In these roles I’ve continued to prioritize investment in the education and development we offer young children. This is especially true of the Senate Budget.

“In developing our budget, we looked for savings just about everywhere, but we increased investment in early education, and laid the groundwork for further initiatives in pre-kindergarten and home visiting. And here’s why.

”To me, a federal budget is about far more than numbers on a page. It is a reflection of our values and priorities—a framework for what we want our country to look like, not just in the next few years, but decades from now. Like any family or business, we need to make decisions today that help us meet our goals and face our challenges for years to come. But in the last few years, it’s become very difficult for the government to plan for the future, because so much of our budget debate has focused on heading off artificial crises.

“When I became chair of the Senate budget committee earlier this year we had just barely averted the fiscal cliff, which was projected to spike unemployment back up and cost millions of American jobs. But the stories that January weren’t about a lesson learned. They weren’t about restoring bipartisanship, or returning to the kind of governing that takes into account our country’s long-term interests.

“The headlines just weeks after the year-end deal were about three—three!—looming, self-inflicted deadlines related to the budget, all within a few months of one another. Unless Congress acted, we were going to hit the debt limit in mid-February or early March. Sequestration was scheduled to begin taking effect on March 1st.And the current continuing resolution expired on March 27th. These are just the examples from this past spring. But you’re all also familiar with the harmful debt ceiling debate in 2011 and the last-minute deals to avoid government shutdown over the last two years.

“With so much attention on getting through the next crisis, it has become difficult to move forward on even our most pressing challenges.

“We know, for example, we need to be prepared for national security challenges as we transition out of Afghanistan. We know our roads, bridges, airports and airways are in disrepair. We know there are major gaps in access to affordable, high-quality early education. And yet we struggle to get anything done that isn’t attached to a pressing deadline. Now, for many reasons, this is the kind of problem you would only really hear about in Washington D.C.

“But this inside-the-beltway brinkmanship affects families and communities across the country. Not just now, but decades into the future. Because while we have been focused on threats of default, government shutdown, and the impact of sequestration, other countries are thinking far down the road—and rightly investing in their workers’ skills and knowledge.

“There is overwhelming economic evidence that human capital investments boost economic growth. The United States has historically done a good job of prioritizing these kinds of investments. In doing so, we’ve offered a path to the middle class for millions of Americans and become the largest economy in the world. But we are going to have to fight to stay in the lead, and the frightening reality is right now, we are falling behind.

“The pace of new STEM degrees awarded in the U.S. increased by 24 percent between 2000 and 2008, but China saw an increase of 218 percent over the same period. By 2020, India will produce four times as many college graduates as the United States.  When that happens, we won’t just suddenly be able to snap our fingers and come up with more engineers or scientists or mathematicians.  We need to be working on this right now.

“Eighty percent of a person’s brain development occurs before the age of five. So that’s the right place to start—and other countries know it. China, for example, has set a goal of providing 70 percent of its children with three years of preschool by 2020. India has set a goal of boosting the number of children who enter school ready to learn from 26 percent to 60 percent by 2018.

“Meanwhile, we have no national strategy to increase participation in early childhood education. Our country ranks 28th in the proportion of 4-year-olds enrolled in pre-kindergarten, and 25th in public funding for early learning.

“But instead of moving forward to solve these challenges, we’re actually moving backward. Sequestration has made devastating cuts to many of the programs that support early learning and development. This is totally unacceptable to me.

“If we want to maintain our leadership and continue to grow our middle class, we have to shift our focus. We need to prioritize the kinds of policies that encourage broad-based economic growth in the future, and also help families right now. Expanding access to quality early childhood education offers us the chance to do both.

“Study after study, about fifty years of research, has built the case that beginning to educate children at an early age helps them get further than they otherwise might.

“Low-income children in high-quality early education programs are, less likely to be held back in school, require special education, engage in criminal activity, or use social safety net programs as adults.  They are more likely to graduate from high school and earn more.

“At a time when other countries are ramping up their investments, and ensuring more of their children have the opportunity to reach their potential, this should simply be a no-brainer.

“Too often, I hear from kindergarten teachers who see huge gaps between students who have had no preschool and students who have. Just a few weeks ago, a teacher in Washington state told me that while some of her students are practicing writing their names on their work, others still need to learn how to hold a pencil. So those children are, even at a very early age, already playing catch-up.

“Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, a champion for investment in early childhood education, said that ‘skill begets skill.’ When a child knows how to turn a page, someone can teach her to read a book. But if she doesn’t, she will be learning how to turn pages while another child is reading them.  Expanding quality early education would help many more of our children, instead of just a few, get a strong start.

“I often hear that the government should operate with the efficiency of the private sector. Well, if you’re thinking about how your investment is going to pay off—quality early childhood education is where you want to put your money. One study showed that the annual return on investment in quality early childhood education for low-income students is anywhere from 7 to 10 percent. 

“The stock market, meanwhile, has historically grown at an average of 5.8 percent each year.  That may be why so many business leaders have called for expanding access.  In fact, the Institute for a Competitive Workforce, which is part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, found that for every dollar invested in early education, the savings ranged from $2 to $17 in future years.

“So whether or not we expand access to quality early education certainly has consequences for our economic future, but it also has economic consequences right now for millions of working parents. This is especially true for working mothers.

“Today, about sixty-five percent of women with a young child are working or looking for work. And unfortunately it’s very difficult to find affordable, high quality early education in many parts of the country. Nationwide, 58 percent of 4 year olds are not enrolled in publicly funded pre-K. The same is true for 85 percent of 3 year olds.

“And the cost of private full-time care can be an enormous financial burden.  The average annual cost of enrolling a 4-year-old is as much as $11,700 in some states. For most parents that’s a lot of money. Faced with a choice between paid work and costly child care, mothers are still more likely than fathers to take time off. Over time, this may contribute to the earnings gap we see so consistently today. And for many women who can’t afford to be at home full time, child care can take up a substantial amount of income—making it harder to get ahead.

“By expanding access to high quality, affordable early education, we can help create a more level playing field not just for our children, but also for working women.

“I always think back to a mom from Washington state named Tiffany.  As a very young mother, Tiffany was able to enroll in an alternative high school program that provided care for her daughter so that she could attend classes. She graduated a year early, got started on her degree, and found a job that paid enough to support her and her daughter. Today, Tiffany owns a successful small business, a roofing company, with her husband. And she believes that without the support she and her daughter received early on, she never would have been capable of getting so far.

“The bottom line is that the research is all there. We’ve got decades of research showing that quality early childhood education can have enormous benefits for young children—and our country as a whole. And we know that expanding quality, affordable early education could help millions of working parents—and parents who want to work—right now. We have a moral imperative to stop just talking about this and start getting something done.

“Now, there has been an enormous amount of progress on early childhood education at the state level, in both Democrat and Republican-led states. Oklahoma, New Jersey, and Georgia, all led by Republican governors, are choosing to invest their limited state resources in early learning.  What we haven’t seen is a similar commitment at the federal level.

“Bringing an effective program to scale won’t be easy, so I would like to outline a few principles for the kind of early education we need to offer.

“Number one, I strongly support access for all children. To be globally competitive in the 21st century, we need to offer every child every shot at success by helping them start off on the right foot.

“Number two, we know spending alone won’t solve the problem. So we need to make sure any new early education program is high quality. That means teachers who are highly trained.  It means small class sizes. And it means from an early age, children are learning both cognitive and behavioral skills.

“Number three, early education can’t happen in a vacuum. For children to gain the most from early education, these programs have to have strong partnerships with K-12 schools and those K-12 schools need to be strong as well.  This point is really important, because some studies have shown that the positive effects of Head Start fade after third grade and these findings have been used to make a case against investing in early learning.

“Here’s what I’d say to that: say you decide to start exercising. If you just stop exercising once you’re in shape, you’re going to end up wheezing again when you try to run. The same is true of early education, it’s got to be part of a high-quality academic path that extends far past kindergarten.

“And finally, number four, early education should be a resource for the whole family.  For many young parents, especially parents who are struggling, like Tiffany was, family support can make a huge difference.

“Senators Harkin, Casey and Hirono and I are currently developing a comprehensive early childhood education bill. I’m working to ensure it reflects each of these principles.

“Our bill aligns closely with President Obama’s proposal, and will significantly expand access to quality early childhood education for children from zero to five.

“A study by Mission: Readiness, a nonprofit organization of senior retired military leaders, found that an investment on the scale I hope to achieve would increase graduation rates by 15 percent for low and middle income children.  This means we would have 2 million more graduates over the next decade. And the reduction in crime and social safety net costs would result in a net benefit to society of $150 billion over the same period.

“This is the kind of legislation that Sherriff Knezovich thinks would make a difference in his community.  It’s the kind of legislation that helps mothers like Tiffany get back on their feet and succeed. And we absolutely have to get it done.

“I know all of us here realize how important this is.  And unfortunately, I think we also appreciate how difficult it’s going to be to get some of my colleagues on board. Given all we know about the impact of quality early education, and the success we’ve seen in Democratic and Republican states alike, this just shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

“I’m ready to get to work, but I’m going to need your help. As our bill comes together, I need you to make sure parents, community leaders, teachers, CEOs, even sheriffs, across the country know about it and demand it.

“And when you talk to them, I need you to tell them to call their Congressman and tell them why early education matters for our future.

“Because today, our country is in very large part the product of decisions that were made decades ago.

“The decision to make public education a priority, the decision to help students from all backgrounds and income levels get a college degree, the decision to heavily invest in innovation.

“And today, our decisions will have just as much impact on the next generation.

“We are choosing, every day, between being a country that is struggling to catch up or being a country that has the knowledge, and therefore the power, to continue to lead. 

“Recently as we’ve moved from one artificial crisis to the next, we’ve been making the wrong choice. We’ve let short-term thinking get in the way of long-term progress. To make the right choice, our country’s challenges, rather than arbitrary deadlines, must guide our decision-making.

 “I am committed to focusing on our challenges. I know all of you are too. And I know that early education is absolutely where we need to start. I want to thank you again for all you are doing. And I look forward to working with you.”