Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Waging war on the American poor

Even Start is a program that was designed to help break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy for low-income families in the U.S., by integrating early childhood education, adult literacy, and parenting education into a unified family literacy program.

The participants in the Even Start program come from some of the most disadvantaged families in the country. According to the U.S. Department of Education, nearly 90 percent of Even Start families had an income below the federal poverty level with nearly half of all parents having incomes below $6000. Even Start parents are far more educationally disadvantaged than families served by other programs. Only 15 percent of parents had a high school diploma or GED when they enrolled in Even Start, compared with over 70 percent of Head Start parents. Even Start families are four times less likely to be employed than Head Start families when they join Even Start. A significant body of research exists showing that children who grow up in high-risk environments face considerable challenges as they enter school.

First authorized, back in 1988, with an appropriation of nearly $15 million, the results and outcomes from across the country have been encouraging:

  • In Florida, more than 80 percent of the children who participated in Even Start were deemed "Ready for School" by the state's pre-Kindergarten screening compared to a statewide average of 75 percent.
  • In New York State, 80 percent of preschool children enter Even Start with literacy scores below the 50th percentile on the Preschool Language Scale-a well-regarded and rigorous assessment. Yet, over 75 percent of those children make more than a one year gain in language development during a year of Even Start preschool—including the children whose native language is not English and children with disabilities. The achievement gap for young children in New York is narrowing.
  • In Georgia, over 85 percent of the Even Start children read on grade level by the end of the primary grades - nearly double the statewide average of 41 percent.
  • In North Carolina, over 75 percent of the pre-k children participating in Even Start programs displayed at least a 1.5 month gain for each month they were enrolled in the program on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test.; and 83 percent of children in grades K -2 were reading at or above grade level. Illinois reports that an average of 97 percent of their children in kindergarten through grade 3, are reading at or above grade level.
  • A study of 450 Even Start families in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Texas, 69 percent of Even Start children exceeded expected levels in Academic Performance.

Yet, despite the obvious success that this program has had in lifting families out of poverty and addressing core literacy issues, which dramatically affect employment capability—if you can read, you probably don’t have much opportunity, particularly in the 21st century working world, which demands much more complex skills than ever before—Even Start is one of several programs originally intended to help bridge the income divide in America looking to be deep-sixed in the Bush Administration’s 2008 budget. While the administration justifies the 1 percent, across the board cut for many similar, education-based programs, citing poor performance, in the case of Even Start, it appears that it was one small program ($111 million) actually making a difference.

While the president’s “war on terrah’” continues to receive prime billing on the pages of our daily papers and on the six o’clock news every night (as more of our young military men arrive stateside in body bags), what continues to rage, with nary a peep from most sources of mainstream news is the administration’s unprecedented attack on the poor, through the gutting of important domestic programs.

With no "shock and awe” displays, no massing of the troops and no nightly commentaries, this attack on the poor is camouflaged in "minor" regulatory changes, routine reauthorizations, "voluntary" block grants, budgetary complexities and other arcana, almost as if our eyes were supposed to glaze over before we really understood. Place the many pieces on the table together, however, and the breadth and the depth of the attack become startling.
The administration’s intentions are quite plain, when the cuts are examined by category:

Elementary, secondary and vocational education—

The proposed cuts include funding for K-12 education, vocational and adult education, and special education. It includes funding for the No Child Left Behind initiatives, including Title I funding that provides schools with additional resources for disadvantaged children, as well as special education funding. The President’s budget would cut overall funding for these education programs by $9.9 billion over the next five years, relative to the expected fiscal year 2007 funding level adjusted for inflation. In 2012, funding for these programs would be reduced $2.8 billion, or 6.8 percent. As shown in Figure 3, these cuts would largely roll back the expansions in these education programs that enacted earlier this decade.

Health care—

Discretionary programs in the budget known as “health care services,” which include community health centers, HIV/AIDS programs (for U.S. residents), maternal and child health programs, the Indian Health Service, substance abuse and mental health treatment, and domestic bioterrorism efforts would be slated for $4.1 billion in cuts over the next five years, relative to the expected fiscal year 2007 funding level adjusted for inflation. The cuts would reach $1.2 billion, or 5.6 percent, in 2012.

Hospital and Medical Care for Veterans—

The President proposes to increase funding for these programs by nearly $1.4 billion (or 4 percent) in 2008. The increase, however would only be temporary. After an increase sought for next year, the Bush budget would turn current trends on their head. Even though the cost of providing medical care to veterans has been growing rapidly — by more than 10 percent in many years — White House budget documents assume consecutive cutbacks in 2009 and 2010 and a freeze thereafter.

An administration, which loves to be seen, draped in the red, white and blue of patriotism, when sending its young off to war, in reality, cares very little about these brave soldiers, many of them who knew little behind their mission, but did as they were directed to do. Instead, when they come home, wounded and maimed, are then neglected by the very same men in charge, who are responsible for their shattered lives and shattered limbs.

Employment and Training Services—

The Bush budget would cut the inflation-adjusted funding for “employment and training services,” which includes funding for programs under the Workforce Investment Act (such as one-stop career centers, training for dislocated workers, employment programs for youth, and the employment service), by $1.2 billion in 2008 and $5.8 billion over the next five years. The cut would reach 17 percent in 2012. These proposed cuts would come on top of the already deep cuts imposed since 2001.Say what you want about state and federally-sponsored training programs, the reality that comes with these cuts is that most of what we currently know as workforce training in Maine and elsewhere will be eliminated. What makes this particularly galling for a state like Maine, is that our workforce requires greater investments in training, skills development and access to innovative programs, in order to acquire the skills required for becoming competitive in a global economy.

I could go on, but my point is this. Never in our country’s history have we attempted to wage war on the scale that we are presently engaged, while granting tax cuts, in this case, to the wealthiest among us. And the group that is bearing the full brunt of this cost—the poorest among us, or as Jesus said, “the least of these.”

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