The Starting Line: Bursting pipes and struggling teachers complicate policy ambitions

Welcome to March!

It seems like everybody’s talking about expanding preschool these days — from presidential candidates to city and state leaders. But amid these discussions are very real concerns about the inadequacies of existing early childhood programs. In New York City, for example, scores of centers serving low-income children are housed in crumbling buildings that put kids and staff at risk. Meanwhile, a new study in Tennessee finds that weaker teachers are routinely re-assigned to lower elementary grades. In Colorado, as the governor promotes a major increase in state-funded half-day preschool slots, some providers say it’s full-day slots they really need.

The debate over ensuring quality in early education — not just quantity — isn’t new. But with so many ambitious proposals on the table, it’s as pressing as ever. Read on for a closer look at these tensions.

See you next month!

— Ann


BURSTING PIPES AND COLD CLASSROOMS Around 100 child care centers are housed in crumbling buildings operated by New York City’s housing authority, creating unsafe conditions for young children and frustration for the nonprofit providers who sometimes pay for repairs out of their own pockets.

SENT DOWN Researchers found that low-performing Tennessee teachers in grades three through five were more likely to be reassigned to non-tested early grades than their more effective peers.

GROWTH STRATEGY With the Colorado governor’s proposal for 8,000 new state-funded preschool seats, providers are asking hard questions about how they’ll find the staff and space for new classrooms, and whether state leaders will reshape the program to broaden its reach and intensity.

UNDER ENROLLED Indiana’s state preschool program had about 1,000 unused seats and $6 million in funding left after an expansion last year. Observers say the problem is a convoluted sign-up process for families, along with the challenge of marketing a new program.  

WHERE TO PUT THE WINDFALL After Michigan received an additional $63 million in federal child care funds, the jockeying began. Detroit’s mayor wants to use the money for the universal pre-K system he envisions for the city, but other advocates say the needs of younger children across the state are more pressing.

WELCOME BOOST In a major speech, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker laid out a plan to increase funding for early childhood programs by $100 million — a bump advocates cheered even though it won’t be enough for the universal preschool program Pritzker championed on the campaign trail.


CASE DISMISSED A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit over a controversial 2016 rule requiring child care workers in Washington, D.C., to have associate degrees. The judge noted in his decision that waivers from the rule have been expanded since it took effect. Washington Post

SPORTS BETTING FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD? Some backers of legalizing sports betting in Louisiana see early childhood education — a noncontroversial issue that politicians regularly say they support — as a way to bolster possible passage of the gambling legislation.

YOUNG AND HOMELESS A homeless shelter in Philadelphia has launched a new program that works to connect parents of young children to child care, including Early Head Start. The Inquirer

GUIDE TO TOUGH QUESTIONS What should you say when kids ask if Santa’s real or what happens when people die? This guide, and the accompanying podcast, helps parents and caregivers navigate these conversations. NPR

PHILANTHROPY FOR THE YOUNGEST A growing number of regional funders, including in Montana and Texas, are committing millions to early childhood efforts. Inside Philanthropy

NO CONNECTION Although earlier studies in animals suggested a connection between receiving anesthesia as a baby and having learning disabilities, new research finds none. New York Times

BATTLE OVER PRE-K  Kansas City’s mayor is pushing for a sales tax hike to provide universal preschool in the city, but there’s lots of opposition to the plan, including from school superintendents and local NAACP and Urban League chapters. The Kansas City Star

… on presidential politics

I wish it was too early for presidential race stories, but sadly, it’s not. (Google tells me there are 608 days left till Election Day 2020.) Scads of politicians have already declared plans to run and plenty more are considering it.

During their first weeks on the campaign trail, several of the candidates have talked up bold early childhood proposals — from universal preschool to massive investments in child care. Here’s a brief look at some of their proposals.

CORY BOOKER Democratic U.S. Senator from New Jersey
During campaign speeches, he’s pledged to fight for universal preschool and has proposed paying for it, along with other priorities, by returning corporate and marginal tax rates to their Obama-era levels.  

JULIÁN CASTRO Former Obama administration housing secretary
During his time as mayor of San Antonio, Castro spearheaded a sales tax hike to pay for full-day preschool, locally known as Pre-K 4 SA. Now, as a presidential candidate, he’s promoting a plan for “pre-K for the USA.”  

KAMALA HARRIS Democratic U.S. Senator from California
In her January launch speech, she declared education a fundamental right — in contrast with previous federal court rulings — and said she wants to guarantee that right, in part, by instituting universal pre-K.

ELIZABETH WARREN Democratic U.S. Senator from Massachusetts
She’s proposed a universal child care program that would rely on existing child care providers and would be funded with a tax on individuals with a net worth of $50 million or higher. The cost of care would depend on a family’s income, with some paying nothing and others paying up to 7 percent of their income.

Photo: Getty Images