America’s Middle Class Promise Starts Early

By Arne Duncan and Kathleen Sebelius. Reposted from the Huffington Post.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke forcefully about America’s basic bargain that people who work hard and shoulder their responsibilities should be able to climb into a thriving middle class. Restoring that bargain, he said, is the unfinished work of our generation.

But for millions of young children in this country, the first rung on that ladder is missing because they are cut off from the kind of early learning that would set them up for success in school — with consequences that could last the rest of their lives. Our Administration is committed to closing that costly, unfair opportunity gap through a new plan that will deliver high-quality preschool for every American child, and enhance early learning services for children from birth through age three.

Study after study confirms what every teacher knows: young children who experience secure, stimulating environments with rich learning opportunities from an early age are better prepared to thrive in school. Indeed, both of us have watched our own children expand their worlds and their minds in the years before they entered school, whether at home or in quality early learning settings. Unfortunately, many American children don’t receive these opportunities.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius read to children at Rolling Terrace Elementary School in Takoma Park, Md., on March 1. Duncan and Sebelius visited preschool and Head Start classrooms, talked with children and teachers and visited the Student Health Clinic.

Fewer than three in 10 American 4-year-olds attend a high-quality preschool program filled with well-organized learning experiences, guided exploration, art, and storytelling, and led by a skilled teacher. The availability of high-quality care and educational services for infants and toddlers is even lower. And the gap is especially pronounced in low-income communities.

Our failure to ensure access to strong preschool is morally indefensible and economically counterproductive. Strong early learning can translate into school success, which can lead to college and good jobs, and ultimately a robust economy. Research shows that every public dollar spent on high-quality early childhood education returns $7 through increased productivity and savings on public assistance and criminal justice programs.

That’s why President Obama has announced a comprehensive plan to help every child develop a strong foundation for future success. Recognizing that this is a time for fiscal caution, the President has been clear that, when combined with his plan for balanced deficit reduction, none of these proposals will add a dime to the deficit. But ultimately, this is an investment that we can’t afford not to make. Under his plan, we will work together to:

  • Make universal, high-quality preschool available to four-year olds from low- and moderate-income families through a partnership with states, while also expanding these preschool programs to reach additional children from middle class families and providing incentives for full-day kindergarten. This new partnership would provide incentives for states to cover all families who want to send their children to preschool and offer high-quality preschool, with low class sizes, qualified teachers, and stimulating learning experiences.
  • Launch a new Early Head Start-Child Care partnership to significantly expand the availability of high-quality early learning opportunities for infants and toddlers.
  • Expand highly effective, voluntary home visiting programs where nurses, family educators and social workers connect low-income families to health, social, and educational supports.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

These actions build on steps the Administration has already taken to boost early learning for our most vulnerable children, from improving accountability and quality of Head Start services to encouraging more systemic policies and investments that will improve the quality and effectiveness of early education through the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge, which rewards states that raise the bar on quality and provide links with health, nutrition, mental health, and family supports.

As we move forward with this economically vital effort, we can look to states that have shown the way. In Michigan and Massachusetts, for example, Governors Rick Snyder and Deval Patrick have made expanding access to preschool programs a priority. In Alabama, Governor Robert Bentley has proposed new resources to rapidly expand early education. These leaders represent a bipartisan consensus that America can’t win the race for the future by holding back children at the starting line.

Unfortunately, the blunt, arbitrary cuts that Congress allowed to go into effect through sequestration will do exactly that. President Obama has put forward a balanced plan to replace those cuts and reduce the deficit, which includes spending cuts along entitlement and tax reform. If Congress fails to compromise, up to 70,000 students could be dropped from Head Start and up to 30,000 low-income children would be left without child care subsidies. These cuts jeopardize our children’s futures. America, which now ranks 28th globally in early childhood enrollment, risks falling even further behind the rest of the world in preparing our children for school.

Early childhood education is one of the best investments can make in America’s future. Now is the time to redouble our efforts, not cut back. Doing right by our youngest children is essential to America’s middle-class promise. We look forward to working together to make it happen.

— Arne Duncan is the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education
— Kathleen Sebelius is the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


  1. Mr. Duncan, hopefully you can do something about the low paid that educators receive. The agency where I work in San Diego CA (NHA) demands a extreme amount of work for teachers and now is demanding to complete a BS degree, however the paid we get with an BS isn’t worthy. Teachers are the ones that do all the hard work in the classrooms and the ones with less pay. Its ridicules that a person in construction or even in the same agency in the kitchen department without a degree can earn more than a teacher. It this make sense? Please pay attention to my post. Teachers deserve it.

  2. The Council for American Private Education (CAPE) published an issue paper in 2008 on early childhood that has great relevance for the current discussion. It is available at:

    Essentially the paper argues that it is the responsibility and right of parents, the child’s primary educators, to determine the setting and style of early instruction that meets their children’s needs. Government should never insist that all children receive the same education in government-run institutions. Instead, public policy should support the right of parents—the people who love the child most and know the child best—to direct the child’s formative years.

    For those parents who seek to supplement the education they offer at home, a variety of quality early childhood settings exist, including programs that conform to a particular theory of child development, those that provide a particular pedagogy, and those rooted in a particular religious tradition. Some early-childhood centers are operated by the government, and some are operated by faith-based and other independent providers. In a free society, it is essential that parents be able to choose from an array of options. Without options, there is no choice; and without choice, there is no freedom.

    To uphold freedom of choice in early childhood education, CAPE offers the following principles:

    • Formal early childhood education should be voluntary.
    • Legislation promoting early childhood education should support the right of parents to choose from a range of programs and providers without financial penalty.
    • Programs designed to assist children and teachers should provide benefits to comparably situated children and teachers, whether in independent or government-run settings.
    • Early childhood education regulations should not seek program uniformity; they should promote pluralism that allows institutions to fulfill their unique missions and parents to choose from a variety of truly distinctive options.

  3. I would like to ask anyone in the federal government in California to please support our migrant education students and families. The program is heading towards a negative end. I learned today that the program is will be heading toward a different phase and that means that there layoffs coming, these second language student are being taught at home by a tutor on a one on one basis if they eliminate positions which they already have in the past these 3-4 year old student won’t get the opportunity to go into kindergarten prepared. Every child deserves the right to an education specially within the crucial first five. So please help me stop such lawmakers who want to restructure a program who serves children in low income rural communities.

  4. Secretary Duncan,
    I couldn’t agree with you more. As a Federal Parent of 2 children who attend Windy City Kids in Chicago, I’m devastated that SSA is closing our beloved pre-k and daycare. Parents are willing to pay more to offset SSA costs. A new provider can be brought in to remedy the enrollment and security issues. We don’t want this center to sit vacant and void of children’s laughter. There’s no reason that the issues SSA mentions can’t be fixed. Help us! Don’t let our children suffer. Think of them. Think of how hard it is to find another childcare provider in less than 90 days. It’s impossible, especially in Chicago, where daycare waiting lists are more than 6 months long. These teachers and staff are like second family to us. They see our children more than we do during the week. We trust them wholeheartedly. We don’t worry about our children being in harm’s way when we leave them. That’s not replaceable. Bring in a new provider and keep the center open, PLEASE!

  5. Dear Arne Duncan,
    As a parent in Chicago and having a child that attended the center at Windy City Kids 600 West Madison, it is quite disturbing that the comments on this blog for the child care center at the Social Security Center in Chicago come from parents that fall within the income level commonly called the “5 percent” or the percentage of Americans who make more than $150,000 annually. This is the class group that will not be impacted at all be these federal cuts. If there was a survey probably all of them could afford child care any where in the country. Please focus our federal dollars and deal with the cuts in Illinois that are more important for our state that the govenor is proposing to cut 400 million from education which will impact lower income parents who really need affordable childcare. Universal childcare as mentioned by our president is for access to childcare for low income and mid level parents. Funding for Head Start and child care programs that have not been paid by the state is so important. Let us focus on these initiatives. We should not focus on federal dollars spent 15 years ago but federal dollars being spent now. We have 139+ chicago public schools slated to be cut this year. Each of these teachers and children are facing school closing and unemployment. Save the bigger picture. Save the Chicago Public Schools now. I would hope that our President and the Secretary of Education utilize our tax dollars and look at the bigger picture. Our country is in a crisis and we need all monies directed to more important issues like stopping the cut of the 400 million proposed by the govenor to our education budget today.

    • Edith, how do you know what the income levels are at Windy City Kids? And perhaps you are misinformed, because Windy City Kids at one time took vouchers. But we can agree on one thing – that investment in kids through the programs you mention (Head Start, CPS schools) is a good investment. That is why the parents (and we have a supermajority of parents) are fighting to keep Windy City Kids open – for current children AND for future children. And the wonderful thing about this group of parents fighting to keep Windy City Kids open? We are open to any and all solutions, including raising tuition to not only cover SSA costs, but helping those children that are in dire need for quality early childhood education. I’m sorry that you see our fight as disturbing, but it’s more disturbing to us that the federal government would throw away an almost $2MM facility that could educate ANY and ALL children. There is no federal money to redirect as you mention since the $2MM investment has been made (sunk cost), and it costs very little to run the center. That is a cost shared by parents and SSA – hence, no money to funnel elsewhere.

    • “Edith”, I’d I’ve to know how you know our income. I’m a federal employee. My salary is public and I can guarantee you it’s less than half of what you state! Please look into facts before you make false statements.

      • Also, we as parents have offered to pay more. We aren’t looking for money. Only to keep our center.

  6. I must reiterate some of the comments. I am writing to you today concerning the closure of the Windy City Kids Day Care, located in the Social Security Administration building. SSA is closing the day care based on the provider not following accreditation rules. If a new provider was put in place, there is a chance this wonderful day care could survive. Unfortunately, SSA is not willing to place a new provider, and I am asking you to help them reconsider this decision.

    Windy City Kids is an exemplary facility staffed by caring teachers. To lose a place like Windy City Kids is devastating to me as a parent and to the community which suffers from an acute shortage of affordable infant care. I am an SSA employee and work in the building that houses the day care. It was built not that long ago in order to be a benefit for federal families. As President Obama discusses the importance of universal preschool, please help ours to stay open. If there is anything you can do it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  7. Secretary Duncan,
    Please help to #saveWCK. @saveWCK is exactly the type of program you are trying to create, yet it already exists. Help the parents get a new provider and stop the hypocrisy of an executive agency shutting down a PreK program as you and POTUS continue to talk about how we need PreK programs.
    Help @SaveWCK and #saveWCK for this generation and future generations.


  8. I was pleased to hear Obama make preK a priority during his State of the Union Address, and I’m especially pleased to see that the White House is showing signs of following through. I’m disheartened, however, by what I’m currently experiencing from the Administration. My son’s daycare, which is housed in a SSA building in Chicago, is being closed. SSA (an arm of the Administration) has refused to meet with parents or to clearly articulate their reasons for the closing. Instead, parents received a short notification letter that they had 90 days to find an alternative. Federal daycare centers in Chicago are in notoriously short supply, and the loss of Windy City Kids (my son’s daycare) will exacerbate that situation. It is an excellent daycare and preK that has helped my son, and my daughter before him, to get exactly the type of head-start on their education that Arne Duncan and Kathleen Sebelius describe in the blog post above. It is difficult to reconcile their sentiments with the current actions of SSA.

  9. As a parent of a child at Windy City Kids, I am trying to understand the disconnect between this effort and one of the Federal executive agencies, closing a much needed preschool in Chicago. The federal government, just 14 years ago spent $2 million dollars building this preschool in Chicago. Since that time, the parents out of their own pockets fund this school in terms of teacher’s salaries/benefits and administration cost. Why close it? We are looking for the Obama administration to step-in and correct this situation. Our federal tax dollars should not be wasted on this facility especially when parents are FUNDING this program out of their own pockets.

  10. It is so refreshing to see the administration support early education initiatives for ALL children. Research has shown over and over again the incredible value added for children and society when money is invested in access to quality early education and preschool. It must come as a surprise then to discover that an executive agency in Chicago (the Social Security Administration) has unilaterally decided to close a daycare and pre-K that offers quality and affordable childcare and preschool to federal employees and the community. This seems counter to the Presidents initiative for universal preK. Windy City Kids offers affordability quality for 50 preschoolers. It also takes the childcare vouchers and offers tuition assistance for those families who need additional help. Please stop this senseless closure- #saveWCK

    • The administration is not supporting early education for ALL children; just low income (esl) and moderate income- where is the middle class? Left out in the cold as usual. Until Early Head Start and Head Start stop rewarding extra points for not speaking English and hiring teachers that do NOT speak English then we are going to continue to leave out part of our 0-3 students.

      • Debi,
        Middle class parents can afford quality daycare. THAT is the reason this group is not funded! Not only are our English language learners at risk, so are low income children, and those with learning difficulties. These are OUR children, it is not their fault they were born into poverty. How short sighted of you to resent the help they so desperately need.

        • I live in NYC and my husband have masters degrees and work in the arts. We will never make the kind of incomes that would allow us to send our children to private daycare facilities. In NYC, private “boutique” preschool programs cost $400-$700 weekly. That is no joke. The only way we could afford to get by was to take advantage of city-funded childcare centers. Here, most of the kids received social services, but we were considered “private” clients– meaning we earned too much to qualify for subsidies, but not enough to actually afford private care. We waited on long waiting lists to be one of few private families that got to send kids to city-funded centers. This meant that we paid $160-180 per week per child. This was the only way we could afford childcare. We are not impoverished, but we do struggle daily with finding affordable solutions to childcare. We happily accept the city-funded options though at the same time are deeply saddened with the inequity that exists comparing private and city-funded centers. We are educated middle class people yet we cannot afford to live in this city. It is terribly unfair and inaccurate to claim that those in the middle class can easily afford child care. We should not be punished for following our hearts and working in the arts– we may never find great riches but we are contributing to the goodness in the world. Let’s come together as a society and support all families who are struggling to find affordable solutions.

  11. If you and President Obama support early childhood education as you state in this blog, then why is one of President Obama’s executive agencies, the Social Security Administration closing an early childhood education center in your hometown of Chicago on April 8? Windy City Kids is located in the Harold Washington Social Security Administration Building at 600 West Madison and has 50 preschool slots, over half of its capacity, dedicated to teaching our youngest children. It’s NAEYC accredited. Please help us, help you realize your vision of universal preschool. If our own federal government doesn’t support universal preschool, how can we expect this to be accomplished for all of America’s children? #savewck.

  12. I think it is great to hear that the two U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius are working hand and hand . Our daughter born with Down Syndrome started as early as 3 months in EI and is now at the age of 22 she is giving back to the community with working for the last five years as a bagger and volunteering at a thrift after graduating at the age of 18 with a Regents Diploma. She is taking a course from Penn Foster on the culunary going to cooking classes to follow thur with the hands on training. She also is a advocate for others childern born with Down Syndrome to be intergrated in to a regular class. The team that our daughter had while she attended School from EI to High Scholl was awsome ! Thank you Rose and Val

  13. As a middle class taxpayer trying to put money aside for my own children’s education and retirement along with day to day living expenses, I don’t want my tax dollars used to subsidize preschools for middle to upper class children and don’t even want them used for some moderate income households.

    I have no objective to providing tax payer paid quality opportunities for low income children and/or disabled children from any income household. There must, however, be means testing for eligibility for preschool. Even moderate income households should bear some of the cost. People value opportunities more when they have to pay for all or some of them.

    If the government takes over all preschooling, there will be far less choices among preschools for those able to pay. This is not a good thing since not all children need the sames types of preschool experience.

    • If we are going to offer it universally then it has to be offered to all- the key word is offered; not mandatory. If you are offended by the process then by all means pay for pre-K that you like. Or better yet, stay home and teach your children yourself. I remember when there was not Pre-K; it was mom and kid time learning and spending time together. But those were the days when parents cared more about the family than themselves.

      • I object to preschool being offered by the government unless many parents have to pay all or some of the costs, and even then, the government should not step in to provide a service if there are sufficient local providers. Once again, there should be means testing implemented for preschools if a child is not disabled before taxpayers are required to subsidize the costs (for all but low income children).

        If the child is disabled, then the government should provide services as it is supposed to now without means testing.

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