Though jobs and the economy dominated the stage at the Democratic party’s convention this week in Charlotte, NC, early childhood education and K-12 schools were not left out entirely. In President Obama’s address last Thursday night, he laid out a challenge to the party faithful in attendance and the American people watching on TV:
“Help me recruit 100,000 math and science teachers in the next ten years, and improve early childhood education… You can choose that future for America.”
He wasn’t the only one to mention early education. Julián Castro, mayor of San Antonio, TX, dedicated a portion of his speech to his city’s efforts to expand pre-K. (Mayor Castro has proposed a sales tax increase to support expanding the programs to more than 22,000 children. To subscribe to Early Ed Watch’s daily news clips and follow updates from around the country, click here.) Castro explained that the priority is critical to the future of the United States, saying:
“We know that pre-K and student loans aren't charity. They're a smart investment in a workforce that can fill and create the jobs of tomorrow. We're investing in our young minds today to be competitive in the global economy tomorrow.”
Another address, presented by a group of women from the U.S. House of Representatives and a handful of women congressional candidates on Tuesday, spanned the economy, military and health care. Joyce Beatty, a congressional candidate from Ohio, wrapped up the group’s speech, saying that “to unleash the power of moms in the economy, it means quality, affordable child care… America's success is dependent on the success of women in education, in business, in the military and in public service.”
And Caroline Kennedy, addressing the crowd on the final night of the convention, effectively previewed the president’s speech later that night, saying that President Obama
“has challenged states to raise standards for teaching and learning – and almost all of them have. He has fought for early childhood education, putting outstanding teachers in every classroom, and making college more accessible to all young dreamers.”
Governor Deval Patrick (D-MA) highlighted Orchard Gardens Elementary School, a K-8 Boston public school that is undergoing major reform efforts through the federal School Improvement Grant program. Through new standards, higher expectations and stronger accountability measures, as well as extended learning time, social-emotional screenings for students and their families and increased attendance efforts, school officials are trying to improve students’ opportunities.
Still, not every piece of the convention spoke so optimistically of education. There were, of course, the dire warnings about what a Romney administration might mean. Both President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the Republicans had plans to cut Head Start. Secretary Duncan used the oft-quoted statistic that the Ryan budget would cut enrollment in Head Start by 200,000 children (click here to read why that claim may be a stretch). And Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) gave a cynical analysis of partisanship in Congress, arguing that “just as bees cannot sting and make honey at the same time, members of Congress cannot simultaneously make passionate enemies and expect political progress.”
At the Republican convention the week before, Romney’s acceptance speech mentioned early childhood too – in the context of private enterprise, not public investment. While listing businesses that his company, Bain Capital, helped to revitalize or create, Romney brought up Bright Horizons, a national company that operates child care and early learning centers. “We helped start an early childhood learning company called Bright Horizons that First Lady Michelle Obama rightly praised,” Romney said. (PolitiFact’s fact-checkers double-checked whether Michelle Obama had in fact praised the company and rated the statement true.)
Despite these brief mentions, however, early education has not featured heavily in either campaign thus far. We will be watching closely as Election Day draws closer. For more on the Romney campaign’s education agenda, check out this earlier post from Early Ed Watch.