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Letter to Tom Harkin and Arlen Specter, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Re: Invest in 'Even Start' Literacy Training for Low-Income Families

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Letter to Tom Harkin and Arlen Specter, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Re: Invest in 'Even Start' Literacy Training for Low-Income Families

Clinton Urges Investment in 'Even Start' Literacy Training for Low-Income Families

Senator Decries President's Proposal to Cut Services to Hundreds of New York Families

Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) led a bipartisan group of senators to urge support for the innovative Even Start literacy program for low-income families. In a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, the lawmakers called for funding the William F. Goodling Even Start Family Literacy Program, which teaches literacy skills to tens of thousands of low-income parents and children across the country. Senator Clinton and her colleagues decried the deep cuts made to the program in recent years and President Bush's proposal to eliminate it entirely in his Fiscal Year 2009 budget. From 2005 to 2006, Even Start served 3,064 New York families, but the President's budget cuts have reduced that number to just 722 families.

"Thousands of New York families have already lost a vital lifeline to literacy because of the President's shortsighted budget cuts. For families working to lift themselves out of poverty, improved literacy can provide a huge boost. Reading is an essential skill for competing in our economy and for raising children who will thrive and succeed. We should be investing more in efforts to improve literacy, not eliminating them," Senator Clinton said.

Even Start is the only federal education program that teaches literacy skills to both parents and children alike. The program provides parents with the skills necessary to teach their children, improve their lives, and improve family relationships. Even Start currently serves less than 19,000 families nationwide - less than half the number of families served when funding levels were higher two years ago. 84 percent of Even Start's families are at or below federal poverty levels. Nearly half of Even Start families have an annual household income of under $6,000, and only 16 percent of Even Start adults have a high school diploma or GED.

Senator Clinton has been a long-time advocate of improving the quality of and access to early childhood education across America. She introduced the Ready to Learn Act (S.1823) to provide voluntary universal Pre-K by strengthening current pre-kindergarten education programs, while allowing governors to build on pre-existing early childhood systems. Schools, child care entities, Head Start programs, or other community providers of pre-kindergarten programs will be eligible for funding. Additionally, the bill prioritizes serving children from low-income working families (earning up to 200% of the federal poverty limit) and children from limited English households.

In the 110th Congress, Senator Clinton became the lead Democratic sponsor of the Education Begins at Home Act (S.667), a bill she had been a cosponsor of in the 109th Congress. The legislation would expand access to early childhood visitation programs -- like HIPPY USA -- that enhance child development from birth through kindergarten entry.

The text of the Senators' letter is below.

April 4, 2008

The Honorable Tom Harkin
Chairman
Appropriations Subcommittee on
Labor, Health, and Human Services,
and Education
131 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Arlen Specter
Ranking Member
Appropriations Subcommittee on
Labor, Health, and Human Services,
and Education
156 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Specter:

We are writing to request funding for the William F. Goodling Even Start Family Literacy Program, which was zeroed out in the President's Fiscal Year 2009 Budget. Even Start has faced decreased funding since 2003 and last year sustained a major 25 percent cut. These considerable decreases have created incredible hardships for many Even Start centers throughout the country - forcing many programs to close their doors and thousands of vulnerable families to lose services.

As you know, Even Start is the only federal education program that teaches literacy skills to both parents and children alike. The program provides parents with the skills necessary to teach their children, improve their lives, and improve family relationships. Even Start currently serves less than 19,000 families nationwide - less than half the number of families served when funding levels were higher two years ago. 84 percent of Even Start's families are at or below federal poverty levels. Nearly half of Even Start families have an annual household income of under $6,000, and only 16 percent of Even Start adults have a high school diploma or GED. Eliminating or reducing funding for this vital program will leave thousands of families without the necessary language skills to find jobs and build successful futures.

A recent Massachusetts Even Start Evaluation found that the state's program met, and exceeded, all seven Indicators of Program Quality (IPQ) - the same indicators the Administration cited for Even Start to meet. This successful program continues to give our nation's most needy population the basic skills necessary to improve their lives. Parents participating in Even Start acquire important skills to become their child's first and most important teacher. Nothing can replace that parental support and encouragement.

Even Start programs are essential to breaking down the barriers that poverty and illiteracy create by integrating early childhood education, adult literacy or basic education, and parenting education into a unified family literacy program. That is why thirty-five national organizations, including the National Council of La Raza, the Center for Law and Social Policy, the Children's Defense Fund, Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngers, USA and Pre-K Now. We have an obligation to our most vulnerable families to support services that they need the most.

Even Start's funding has been so severely cut that programs are serving less than half the families they were serving just two years ago. From 2005 to 2006, Even Start served 43,156 families nationwide and 3, 064 of those families were in New York. Today, due to the Bush Administration's budget cuts Even Start has only been able to serve between 18,321-18,793 families- only 722 families in New York. Maine has also seen a severe reduction due to these cuts, 66% of Maine families being served have lost Even Start services over the past three years. We can all agree these are dramatic cuts for a program that serves such vulnerable families. It is critical to note that these families cannot wait until reauthorization for Congress to increase Even Start's funding given that how many programs have already been forced to close their doors.

For these reasons, we ask that you restore funding to $100 million for Even Start in the fiscal year 2009 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill. This funding will help the program continue to put America's most vulnerable families on track to a successful life.

Sincerely,


Source:
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