Thursday, Apr. 27th 2017

Let’s keep doing great work in face of political winds

 

 

 

 

There’s a motto among sailors that when difficulty arises—especially such as a large storm—that until it’s decided what actions need taking, that you should “maintain course and speed.”

That’s a pretty good way to view current events happening in our nation’s capital and how they affect Head Start programs. The storm brewing looks immense with headwinds and waves threatening to swamp us.

But we have weathered these kinds of tempests before. More importantly, we all know the advantage that Head Start provides children and their parents—and that confidence should give us great reassurance for the future.

Nevertheless, it pays to be vigilant and ready to act quickly: Knowledge is power, and so let’s review the current “sea state” of national politics—what is happening in Washington D.C. and how that translates into likely actions we can take.

It’s obvious the new administration is pushing an agenda—to change everything that the former administration put in place. And the majority-led Republican Congress is, for the most part, not opposing the president.

Topping the agenda is dismantling the Affordable Care Act, tax reform and new draconian measures to reduce immigration.

Getting much less publicity is the push to change how Head Start funding is handled—to make it block grants to the states. (HR 1921, Head Start Improvement Act of 2017, Rep. Jim Banks, Indiana and Sen Mike Lee, Utah) This has come up many times in our history, but the threat seems more imminent with the current Congress and administration. It is important to remember that the early childhood education field has stalwart support from both the general public and also legislators on both sides of the aisle who believe that Head Start should continue to be managed by local design.

The new administration also wants to considerably reduce federal spending on domestic programs as a way to reign in one side of federal government. The big focus is on cutting or eliminating entitlement programs. This puts Head Start directly in the crossfire, once again, as we watch the new administration push to drastically reduce nondefense discretionary spending as a way to boost defense spending.

So, when these factors converge, as Head Start staff, you might be wondering how they will impact programs that are safety nets for children and families—and how they will also impact your own livelihoods—and what can be done.

First, we must maintain course and speed. Keep doing what we know how to do best and what we know what works and has shining results for the last 50-plus years. Some things to remember:

  • We are a local program with deep local roots. We are deeply embedded in the communities that we are a part of, with local community partners who play an integral role in how we operate.
  • No matter how you move government or how far the pendulum swings in either direction, the need to serve families will always exist. The most important thing you can do daily is to provide high quality early childhood education and services to the children and families in your program. Keep focusing on our critically important mission.
  • We have results and accountability: Just look at the Region 9HSA success stories. And The Heckman Equation is also powerful testimony to Head Start’s impact.
  • At this point, the funding cuts are just proposals. Congress controls spending not the executive branch. Congress must create and pass a budget and its budget must be signed by the president in order to have a new budget. In order to pass Trump’s budget, it would require lawmakers to alter or toss out the Budget Control Act of 2011, which sets caps on federal discretionary spending.

Second, the entire Head Start community will be pushing back, and pushing back hard on any cuts to Head Start. Congressional Committees will also be pushing back by every means possible.

Recently, National Head Start Association Executive Director Yasmina Vinci spoke before Congressional members at a hearing of the House Labor, Health & Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee examining the payoff of investing early in young children. She came away with a good impression of the members’ support for Head Start.

“Today the talk among a lot of the researchers and members of Congress at the hearing was about how we’re not serving all the kids we should be serving,” she said. “The closing quote from Idaho Congressman (Mike) Simpson was, ‘This may actually be the most important hearing this committee and maybe even Congress has heard.’”

Vinci’s testimony and the response it accorded from Congressman Simpson shows how vital it is that we continue to tell our story. We have a rich and impactful history of serving the most vulnerable children in our nation.  We have an incredible alumni network that validates the results of our poverty intervention and two-generation approach. This is the time to develop or practice your Head Start story and then find an opportunity to share it in your community or on social media. You can find resource material on the Head Start impact at our Region 9 HSA website page here.

This is also the perfect time to celebrate small wins. Keep track of them. They will be helpful for the advocacy efforts ahead. Advocacy requires keeping a big picture perspective while acknowledging each positive action along the way.

Third, this is the ideal time to contact a legislator with the message about the unique and positive difference your work and the work of your program are making in the lives of these children and families.

I recommend that you introduce or re-introduce Head Start to your community and legislators by hosting an open house at your agency.  Legislators are interested in how the new Performance Standards have strengthened our impact and outcomes. Congressional leaders who have seen first-hand the positive gains that have been made by Head Start children and families in communities across our region and the nation will reflect their support for the program in next year’s budget appropriation.

Collectively, we will make a difference—because all along we have made a difference in the lives of children and families. Our success equips us with powerful tools—millions of Head Start alumni who are contributing positively to our nation. That alone, should give us hope. We will thrive.


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The Vision

All children, regardless of their circumstance at birth, deserve a full and prosperous life.


The Mission

  • Support high-impact Head Start programs for children and adults by creating opportunities for collaboration, networking and information sharing.
  • Unite with state and national Head Start organizations to ensure regulatory and budget outcomes that support our work.
  • Champion the message that every child and family who succeeds makes their community a better place.
  • Provide resources to assist our members in compliance and professional development.

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