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Behind the Scenes: Secretaries Duncan and Sebelius Champion Early Care and Learning

This morning I visited a Head Start classroom with NWLC’s Director of Child Care and Early Learning, Helen Blank, and two recognizable guests.

Helen was part of a select group of early childhood advocates invited to join Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as they visited the Judy Center at Rolling Terrace Elementary School in Takoma Park, Maryland. Judy Centers are located in or affiliated with elementary school across Maryland and provide a comprehensive set of services for at-risk children birth through age five and their families.

Secretaries Duncan and Sebelius treated the children to a great rendition of “Green Eggs and Ham” and I got to play press photographer. The children seemed to thoroughly enjoy their new storytellers though they were a bit skeptical when Secretary Sebelius tried to use the story to encourage them to try new foods.

Secretaries Duncan and Sebelius

“Have you ever tried a food you thought you wouldn’t like and then you liked it?” she asked.

“No,” a little boy responded matter-of-factly.

After the reading, the press and guests cleared out of the classroom so the students and teachers could get back to playing and learning.

But the show wasn’t over after the reading. Secretaries Duncan and Sebelius were out in full force to talk about President Obama’s plan to expand high-quality early care and education and the importance of stopping the Sequester’s damaging consequences for Child Care, Head Start, and K-12 education.

“The first few years of a child’s life are the most critical,” Secretary Sebelius told the collected advocates, school officials, teachers, and parents. “That’s when the most important brain development takes place.”

“Dramatically expanding high-quality early learning is absolutely a win-win proposition,” Secretary Duncan said. Investing in high-quality child care for babies and toddlers and preschool for 4-year-olds “would make America more productive, more competitive, and over the long-haul will save untold millions in tax payer dollars.”

But Sequestration presents a serious challenge to expanding high-quality learning and early childhood supports Secretaries Duncan and Sebelius told the audience. The across-the-board budget cuts that went into effect today (read more on the Sequester here) will lead to serious cuts to Child Care and Head Start if Congress doesn’t act.

Both secretaries implored lawmakers to fix the Sequester to protect our youngest children from damaging cuts and to act on implementing the President’s vision of expanded high-quality child care and early learning. Now is the time to invest, they told the audience. As Secretary Duncan said, “America can’t win the race for the future by cheating children at the starting line.”