Op-Ed

Bipartisan budget deal prioritizes programs for low-income children

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Congress recently reached a historic two-year budget agreement, which invests significantly in programs that help children in Kentucky succeed.

The plan promises to double funding to $5.8 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant program. Congress has never before doubled funding for that program.

This will ensure approximately 230,000 more low-income American kids — including 1,600 in Kentucky — will receive access to high-quality child care programs.

We are grateful to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for working across the aisle to reach this agreement, which also reauthorizes the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program for five years.

Home visiting works. Just ask Christy, a mother in Owsley County whose son Colson was literally born “tongue tied” with extra tissue under his tongue, restricting its range of movement.

If untreated, the condition could cause feeding and speech issues. Fortunately, Colson had surgery to get the tissue clipped, and with the help of a Save the Children home visitor, Christy found the early intervention services her son needed to support his speech development.

Christy — who was a junior in high school when she was pregnant with Colson’s older brother, Bentley, now 5, has been enrolled in Save the Children’s Early Steps to School Success, a home-visiting program for families and children from birth to age 5, since before Bentley was born.

The program equips parents with the skills — and for parents like Christy, the interventions — to successfully support their children’s growth. It also offers kids a foundation of language and literacy skills through home visits and book exchanges.

This is a rare resource in rural Owsley County, one of America’s poorest, where more than half of the children live in poverty.

With the daily reading and learning activities the Save the Children home visitor has helped initiate for Colson at home, the toddler is well on his way to being ready for kindergarten.

Providing families with access to affordable, quality early learning services, including child care and home visiting, gives both parents and kids the opportunity to reach their full potential. Knowing their children are in a safe, nurturing environment allows parents to more easily join the workforce and contribute to the state’s economy.

This smart economic investment is something both Republicans and Democrats should — and do — strongly support. In fact, according to a national poll of likely voters in battleground states conducted by Save the Children Action Network in 2015, 90 percent of respondents believe early learning is critical to children’s success.

More than a quarter of Kentucky’s children live in poverty. Sixty percent of 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families are not enrolled in pre-school or nursery school programs. Because of their families’ economic status, these kids likely struggle to keep up with their more well-off peers. That’s just not fair.

But early childhood education, child care and home visiting programs make a positive difference in these kids’ lives — just like they did for Colson.

Save the Children began our work in the United States in Kentucky communities in 1932, providing support to school children during the Great Depression. We currently partner with 41 schools in eight counties to deliver education and health programs to more than 17,000 children.

We thank McConnell and his colleagues in the U.S. Senate and House — including Rep. Hal Rogers, who joined us in visiting Save the Children’s education and home visiting programs in Kentucky last fall — for prioritizing kids in Kentucky and across the country.

However, Congress needs to make the promise of funding a reality. Please join us in urging Congress to retain this funding in the final fiscal year 2018 budget, as well as also investing in kids and families in the fiscal year 2019 budget.

Thousands of kids like Colson are counting on it.

Mark Shriver is senior vice president of U.S. programs and advocacy at Save the Children. Angie Boggs is state director of Save the Children’s Kentucky programs.

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