As the presidential election dominates the news over the next few weeks, PolitiFact – a fact-checking website sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times – has released an analysis of then-Senator Obama’s 2008 campaign promises, as well as promises made by Republican party leadership during the 2010 congressional elections.
It’s telling that not one of the 57 GOP promises rated by PolitiFact is directly related to education or children.
But of 508 of the president’s promises rated, several dozen are early childhood- or education-related. They range from home visitation for low-income expectant mothers (Promise Kept) to requiring that all schools of education be accredited (Stalled). And a surprising number of them are promises specific to early education.
Back in 2008, the Obama campaign promised a “Children’s First” agenda – a series of initiatives that emphasized children from birth to age 5. Four years later, PolitiFact rated the administration’s progress as “Compromise.” Though the group notes it found no evidence of an agenda labeled “Children’s First,” a number of smaller birth-to-five projects like home visiting, the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, and Head Start quality efforts have been pushed, and each one of those has been achieved.
Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education Initiative, spoke to the PolitiFact researchers, saying that while there’s plenty left undone, the administration has nonetheless pushed “the conversation of early childhood care so that it is connected to early education.” And, she said, federal funding cuts have mostly spared early learning programs. In some cases, early education programs have even seen funding boosts, a rarity throughout the recession.
And in response to a promise to provide “affordable and high quality” child care, PolitiFact deemed the president’s score a “Promise Kept.” The rationale for the rating is $2 billion in stimulus funding funneled into the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). Still, it is difficult to say that promise is complete, given that a report by Child Care Aware® of America found that in 35 states and the District of Columbia, child care costs are, on average, higher even than in-state tuition.
The website also ranked the president’s promise to “promote more preschool education” as a Promise Kept, citing the $500 million Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge program. But even though that program did incent states to reform and strengthen their early learning policies, as well as flush some extra money into building an early learning infrastructure, there’s still plenty of work left to do. The program did not increase the number of slots for high-quality pre-K programs and per-pupil funding for pre-K has declined by more than $700 per child over the past nine years. Early Ed Watch’s sister initiative, the Federal Education Budget Project, now displays in its PreK-12 database state- and school district-level data on state-funded pre-K, Head Start, and special education preschool grants. The data show gaping holes in available data, especially at the local level, and insufficient access in many states to publicly funded pre-K programs. (Take a look at your state or school district; the data are here.)
Promises to quadruple Early Head Start, grow funding for Head Start, and improve quality in both programs, meanwhile, were rated Compromise. Instead of quadrupling Early Head Start as he promised, the president nearly doubled enrollment in the program thanks to extra stimulus cash. He did increase funding for Head Start, but PolitiFact also credits the $500 million Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge to efforts to increase Head Start funding because much of it was dedicated to improving the administrative side of all early learning programs – including, but not limited to, Head Start. And with several new quality improvement and enforcement mechanisms in place, PolitiFact considered the president’s third Head Start promise a success.
To check out the rest of the PolitiFact ratings for President Obama, click here for education promises and here for promises related to children. Also see recent posts on Early Ed Watch about how both Obama and Romney are talking about – or not talking about – early education during these last few months before the election.