The economic recession has thrust more families into poverty and slowed federal, state and local revenue. A new report out this week from First Focus, “Children’s Budget 2012,” examines the amount of federal dollars directed toward children in this challenging climate.
Although total federal funding for children rose over the past five years by about 17.5 percent ($46 billion), the report finds this is primarily due to increased eligibility for entitlement programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. The annual discretionary funding Congress appropriates for children’s programs has fallen in each of the past two years, and dropped in inflation-adjusted terms by 1.5 percent between 2008 and 2012.
Spending from the $47.1 billion Recovery Act peaked in 2010, and by 2013, stimulus funds will have dried up in most states and localities. Planned across-the-board cuts (“sequesters”) could also force scale-backs to discretionary programs for children, and House budget proposals have included significant cuts to important early education and health programs such as SNAP and the Social Services Block Grant Program, which provides daycare, foster care, adoption case management and child protective services.
The “Children’s Budget” report examines the funding level for every child-focused federal program, providing a five-year trend calculation. Several early education programs fared surprisingly well given fiscal constraints; Head Start funding, for example, has increased by 8.1 percent since 2008. And the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which experienced a 7.8 percent drop in mandatory funding, recovered at least some of those dollars from a 3.4 percent increase in discretionary spending on the program.
Title I grants for economically disadvantaged students (only a portion of which support early childhood programs) increased in total spending, but decreased relative to the number of eligible students. The same is true of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which provides out-of-school academic enrichment, and the special education state grants program, which serves children with disabilities. Federal Medicaid dollars, some of which support children’s medical insurance, have fluctuated in recent years – falling more than 7 percent from 2011 to 2012 as stimulus funds expired -- but over the past five years increased by more than 20 percent. The Children’s Health Insurance Program has also grown by almost 40 percent in the past five years.
For state-by-state data on children’s program funding, check out the new 2012 “Kids Count” report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. That paper measured children’s well-being according to four metrics: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community (defined as parents’ marital and educational statuses, percentage of children in high-poverty areas and the teenage birth rate).
The “Kids Count” report found several concerning trends. Child poverty increased by 16 percent from 2005 to 2010, and between 2008 and 2010, the number of children without consistently employed parents rose by 22 percent. The report did find improvement, if in only a few areas; only 8 percent of children lacked health insurance in 2010, for example, down from 10 percent in 2008. Forty-seven percent of children attended pre-K programs between 2008 and 2010, up from 44 percent in the 2005-2007 period.
Although the Kids Count report includes important information on the status of American children – and a cool interactive graphic that shows how each state ranks overall and in each metric – we’d caution against reading too much into the preschool enrollment numbers. Steve Barnett, director of Rutgers University’s National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), points out that the research seems to have pooled two data sets, giving some states credit for private pre-K programs and limiting other states’ numbers to public enrollment. For more on pre-K enrollment, check out NIEER’s State of Preschool 2011 report.