The early education community went to battle this week: Congress has the opportunity during the upcoming lame-duck session to vote on an ominbus spending measure that could have injected a huge amount of funding into early education. Advocates have been calling on their supporters to get on the phones to push for the former option. But it looks like they may have already lost.
What advocates wanted to see was a vote authorizing the Early Learning Challenge Fund, President Obama’s Race to the Top contest for the early childhood world. Congress could have also decided to maintain the extra funding (about $2 billion) for Head Start and Early Head Start that was included in the federal stimulus bill in 2009. Discontinuing that funding could mean that hundreds of thousands of children will be kicked off the Head Start rolls, early ed advocates say.
All of this depended on what Congress did about the budget bill that includes the early education spending and which has been stalled for months. It was possible that Congress would finally get around to voting on the omnibus bill, but there was also the possibility (now almost certain) that they’ll simply pass a continuing resolution that maintains current funding levels and leaves the big budget decisions up to the next Congress.
An article in the National Journal yesterday reported that Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, has scuttled the idea of voting on the omnibus measure: “If this election showed us anything, it’s that Americans don’t want Congress passing massive trillion-dollar bills that have been thrown together behind closed doors,” McConnell was quoted as saying. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was quoted saying that “it looks like it’s just a CR at this stage,” referring to the continuing resolution.
The likelihood that the next Congress, with a Republican-controlled House and a shrunken Democrat majority in the Senate, will support additional spending for early education is pretty small, but we’ll have to wait and see.