A new report from two child advocacy groups, First Focus and Save the Children, gave the United States a grade of C- on children’s issues for last year. The report, America’s Report Card 2012, considered White House, federal agency, state and community efforts on family economic security; early childhood and K-12 education; permanency and stability in welfare programs and for immigrant families; and children’s health and safety. The groups examined federal, state and local efforts in each of these areas, and gave scores according to qualitative analyses.
The report issued the United States a C+ for early learning programs and a D for access to child care. The early learning grade reflects falling funding for state-funded pre-K programs and limited enrollment in Head Start and Early Head Start. Here at New America, the Federal Education Budget Project and the Early Education Initiative collaborated to collect and display data detailing funding and enrollment for state-funded pre-K and federal Head Start and special education programs across the country. According to our analysis, half of the 40 states with state-funded pre-K programs reported no increase or a drop in funding for state-funded pre-K from 2010 to 2011. One state, Arizona, eliminated its pre-K program last year. Meanwhile, in 25 of the 40 states with pre-K programs, enrollment increased, which means many states were forced to either limit access to pre-K or stretch resources to cover more children.
Federal Head Start funding increased from 2010 to 2011 in all but three states, and enrollment increased in all but five, but the report’s authors also measured enrollment in these programs against the number of eligible children. They found that in 2010, less than five percent of eligible children under age 3 and only 29 percent of eligible children aged 3-5 were enrolled in Head Start.
The report’s overall assessment of early childhood education does not weigh the quality of various Head Start programs, nor does it take into account the Obama administration’s Head Start recompetition process, which aims to improve quality by forcing subpar Head Start providers to compete for federal funds.
In access to child care, the U.S. rated even lower than it did in early learning programs. According to the report, only one in six eligible families actually receive federal child care assistance from any of the relevant programs, including the Child Care Development Fund, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and the Social Services Block Grant. Again, efforts by the White House and by governors across the country to improve the quality of child care programs by installing and incenting participation in Quality Rating and Improvement Systems did not earn the nation any extra credit.
Perhaps the most disturbing grade in the report was the D for children’s “economic security.” The organizations cited census numbers that show one in four children under five were living in poverty in 2011; Department of Labor statistics that show 7.7 percent of parents with children were unemployed; and USDA numbers that show more than 8.5 million kids were in homes without enough to eat.
With growing numbers of single-parent families and unemployed and low-income parents, children are feeling the brunt of the recession. Census statistics show 57.2 percent of kids with single moms were in poverty in 2011 – more than four and a half times the rate for children in two-parent homes. State budgets are just beginning to bounce back from recession-based shrinking, and tight budgets typically mean less access to affordable child care, pre-K and other early learning programs. According to America’s Report Card 2012, that means the U.S. is not serving families well at the time many most need help.