Last night, when the Senate gave up an attempt to pass an omnibus funding bill, which would have funded the federal government for FY 2011, the debate was mostly about all the earmarks in the bill. Mostly lost in the conversation was the fact that failure to pass bill means that tens of thousands of children will lose access to child care and Head Start.

The Senate omnibus funding bill included a $681 million increase for the Child Care and Development Block Grant to maintain child care assistance for about 100,000 children and their families; a $840 million increase for Head Start, to prevent 60,000 children from losing out on Head Start and Early Head Start; and $300 million to establish an Early Learning Challenge Fund that would encourage states to build high-quality, collaborative early childhood systems.  These increases would have helped many, although not all, of the nearly 300,000 children who benefitted from child care assistance and Head Start and Early Head Start starting in 2009 as a result of economic recovery funding.

Unfortunately, the Senate dropped consideration of the omnibus bill because of concern that there were too many earmarks—even though many of those Senators now objecting to earmarks had previously put their own earmarks into the bill.  Instead, the Senate will now likely consider a stripped-down funding bill or Continuing Resolution that will extend government spending at current levels for a few months and may not include increases for these vital early care and education programs. And when Congress returns at the beginning of next year, they may consider cutting funding levels for the remainder of the fiscal year.

This decision will have immediate consequences for many low-income parents struggling put food on the table and support their families. Without help paying for the child care they need to work, these parents will be at risk of losing their jobs, being unable to pay their other bills, or being forced to leave their children in makeshift arrangements because they cannot afford better, more stable early learning options. And without Head Start, many of our poorest infants, toddlers, and preschoolers will be left without the early learning opportunities they need to enter school ready to succeed.

It’s not too late for the President and Congress, in this holiday season, to ensure a better outcome for these children and families. The Senate should follow the House’s lead and provide additional funding for child care and Head Start when they pass their Continuing Resolution.

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