Schooled Reporting on education

Trump’s child care promises are low priority for GOP

Education | Democrats continue to take the lead in legislative efforts
by Leigh Jones
Posted 9/20/17, 04:07 pm

President Donald Trump made affordable child care part of his 2016 campaign platform, and in February he unveiled a proposal for child care tax deductions and credits to help ease the financial burden for working families.

But Republicans have been slow to take up the cause, and last week, Democrats beat them to a legislative solution, introducing a bill that would expand federal funds for early childhood education.

The Child Care for Working Families Act proposes doubling the number of children who now qualify for federal help. It also caps child care payments at no more than 7 percent of annual income for families making less than 150 percent of their state’s median income. For teachers, the bill requires more training and better pay.

In a Republican-controlled Congress, the Democrats’ bill might have little chance of gaining traction. But after the president’s recent willingness to deal with his political opponents on budget issues, Democrats might harbor hope he would work with them on child care, too.

Early childhood education, especially through federal programs like Head Start, largely has been considered an issue for Democrats. But conservatives also acknowledge the importance of quality child care, especially for poor families. They just disagree over how to pay for it and who should regulate programs.

Katharine Stevens, an early childhood policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, told lawmakers in July any federal effort toward improving early education should amplify state-level innovation.

“Federal early childhood programs play a key role in addressing inequality of opportunity and lack of economic mobility for disadvantaged children,” she said in prepared testimony for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. “Targeting investment to children’s earliest years is sensible policy because it aims to build a strong foundation in the first place rather than trying to fix expensive, preventable problems down the line. Too often, though, our thinking is limited by what currently exists, not driven by what we are actually trying to accomplish. We need new strategies to accomplish our core aim: promoting the well-being of lower-income children so they can grow into healthy, happy, productive citizens.”

But how best to do that? Democrats would like to see government’s role expanded in early childhood education, just as in higher education. Critics argue we should fix the public education system before giving it broader reach. Stevens noted the vast majority of child care comes from the private sector, creating an opportunity to encourage improvement in a market-based approach. If poor parents had the ability to choose the best program for their children, the number of high quality child care centers would increase to meet the demand.

Studies have cast doubt on the effectiveness of programs like Head Start, but that doesn’t mean education during a child’s earliest years isn’t important, Stevens told lawmakers. Almost two-thirds of mothers with children younger than 6 work outside the home, and 40 percent of those with infants younger than 12 months work full-time. Almost 11 million American children get care from someone other than their parents for an average of 33 hours a week. Because children are constantly learning at that age, child care amounts to education, Stevens argued. And high quality child care can make the difference between success and failure later in life.

“By 18 months, toddlers from low-income families can already be several months behind their more advantaged peers in language development,” Stevens noted. “One widely cited study found that by age 3, children with college-educated parents had vocabularies as much as three times larger than those of children whose parents did not complete high school—a gap so big, researchers concluded, that even the best intervention programs could at most keep the less-advantaged children from falling still further behind.”

Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Harnik Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Harnik Johnathan Holifield speaks at the National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference at the White House on Monday.

HBCUs grow increasingly frustrated with Trump

Leaders of historically black colleges and universities met with White House officials this week amid ongoing tension with President Donald Trump. The annual National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference got off to a bad start when the Education Department issued a memo earlier this month saying the event had been canceled. White House officials later corrected that to say they’d simply shortened the schedule to two days instead of the normal three.

Adding to the frustration, Trump wasn’t even in Washington to meet with university leaders, who came to the capital during the president’s trip to the United Nations in New York. But the administration tried to soften that blow by finally naming an executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities: former National Football League player Johnathan Holifield, who writes and consults on the topics of innovation and inclusiveness.

Holifield said he would encourage HBCUs to contribute more to the U.S. economy.

“There is no path to sustain new job creation, shared prosperity, and enduring national competition without the current and increased contributions of historical black colleges and universities,” he told students as the annual summit began.

HBCU leaders are frustrated with Trump because he courted their support, inviting them to the White House for an Oval Office photo op earlier this year, but he hasn’t delivered on promises of increased support, including more funding for the schools. Interestingly, HBCU leaders leveled similar complaints against President Barack Obama, who didn’t do much to advance their agenda during his eight years in office. —L.J.

Facebook Facebook University of South Florida St. Petersburg

Back to school, again

Most Florida students returned to class this week as the state continues its recovery from Hurricane Irma, the massive storm that left widespread power outages when it made landfall Sept. 10. Administrators must now figure out whether to adjust the school calendar to make up for the unexpected, nearly two-week vacation.

Colleges and universities also are scrambling to make up for lost class time, especially for students who planned to graduate in December. Administrators at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers initially said students would not get their degrees until January, but after an outcry they figured out a way to keep the original Dec. 16 graduation date.

At least one Florida university is restarting the school year without a leader after its top administrator fled Irma without making sure all the students under her charge had evacuated safely. Sophia Wisniewska, regional chancellor for the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus, evacuated to Atlanta but insinuated in an email to her boss that she was still on campus, where she could hear birds chirping and students talking.

Judy Genshaft, president of the University of South Florida system, opted to keep the schools’ dorms open until Irma changed track and appeared likely to blast the Tampa Bay area, where St. Petersburg is located. But Wisniewska didn’t adjust the plan to account for the changing threat, a decision that raised questions about her “leadership competence in an emergency situation,” Genshaft wrote in an email to the chancellor. Just before university leaders planned to fire her this week for “lack of leadership,” Wisniewska negotiated a severance package in exchange for her resignation. The agreement will keep her on the university payroll, at a reduced rate, until May 1. —L.J.

Opioid abuse 101

Maryland lawmakers adopted new rules for opioid prevention efforts earlier this month, requiring students to take three courses on the drugs’ dangers before graduating high school. Lawmakers hope the courses, two in elementary school and one in high school, will help cut down on the epidemic. Students who go on to college will get another dose of drug-use prevention. While well-intentioned, critics are skeptical about the courses’ efficacy.

But speaking to reporters last month, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price advocated for a multipronged approach that includes education. “The problem is very complicated, and currently we’re on the losing side of this war,” he said. “We know that this involves public health, the medical community, healthcare delivery system, law enforcement, education, local and statewide elected officials, devastated families, and those in treatment and recovery.” —L.J.

Home away from home?

Wired magazine has an interesting (and very long) article about the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s decision to shutter an eclectic dorm known for both its brilliant residents and its out-of-control partying. And MIT isn’t the only university opting to close residence halls with a storied, if questionable, history. Wired’s article provides a fascinating look into a little-known corner of campus life. —L.J.

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Leigh Jones

Leigh is acting managing editor for WORLD Radio. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate who spent six years as a newspaper reporter in Texas before joining WORLD. Leigh also co-wrote Infinite Monster: Courage, Hope, and Resurrection in the Face of One of America's Largest Hurricanes. She resides with her husband and daughter in Houston, Texas.

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  • JerryM
    Posted: Thu, 09/21/2017 05:29 pm

    Institutionalised childcare initiatives are a trojan horse.  They are one further outcome of the disintegration of the nuclear family and, overall, represent a weaker option for developing healthy intelligent children.  For the best early childhood care, the government needs to encourage one parent to stay at home with their children as long as possible.  We need to reverse course back to the historically tried and tested ways.