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Week of the Young Child

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Week of the Young Child

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Madam Speaker, before I begin, I would like to ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks and include extraneous material.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentlewoman from Florida?

There was no objection.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity that has been given to us by Speaker Pelosi tonight to talk about an issue that is affecting literally millions of families across America, and that is the lack of affordable child care and early childhood education. It is especially important to highlight these issues as this week marks the Week of the Young Child.

For the next hour, we're going to focus on young children and how, over the last 7 years, we have failed to provide adequate and necessary funding for vital child care and early childhood education.

And I can tell you, Madam Speaker, that as a mother of three young children--I have 8-year-old twins and an almost 5-year-old, 4 1/2 -year-old little girl--this is something that is near and dear to my heart.

I remember the struggle that I went through when I first gave birth to my twins and had to go back to work, and we searched and searched for a quality child care program. We were turning our newborn babies, 3 months old, 4 months old, over to really, basically, someone we didn't know, someone to care for our little ones all day long. You know, we just couldn't even imagine turning over the care of our babies, our most precious resource, we couldn't imagine turning over our babies to anyone.

So you can imagine the struggle that people go through when, on top of having to decide where they can take their children to be cared for while they work, that they also have to struggle through the angst of not knowing or not expecting that they can afford that care. And because we have continued to slash and burn from this administration the funding for Head Start and for the Child Care Development Block Grants programs, we absolutely wanted to come to the floor tonight and spend an hour, at least an hour, highlighting the needs that children in this country have, and particularly those of working families. And I'm going to be joined tonight by several of my colleagues.

Before we begin, though, I do want to recognize and thank our good friend, Chairman George Miller of the Education and Labor Committee, and Chairman Kildee, Dale Kildee, for their leadership and their commitment to child care issues and education, as well as the Head Start and Child Care Development Block Grant Program funding. These are all programs that are near and dear to their hearts, and a number of these Members have submitted statements.

We just have to highlight that there are children, especially those from low-income families, that need better access to high-quality early childhood programs. Across the Nation, Madam Speaker, child care fees average from $4,000 to $10,000 per year which exceed the cost of public universities in most States. Yet nationally, only one in seven children who are financially eligible for child care subsidies is being served. One in seven.

And at this time, I would like to turn the podium over to a champion for America's children, the voice in this body that is consistently there for those who have no voice. She is the current Chair of the Woman's Caucus, Congressman Lois Capps of California.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Thank you very much.

Mr. Speaker, to continue on with the highlighting of the Week of the Young Child, there are statistics that are incredibly important, and I will go through some of those this evening. But more important than the statistics and the studies are the stories. And I can tell you, as a mom with young children, who I probably will talk about quite a bit this evening, you don't need studies, you don't need statistics to be able to see the progress that your child makes when they go through a preschool, when they go through a childcare program. And you can see their brain literally working like sponges, absorbing the information and processing it and turning it into useful information. And I can tell you that I've seen my children, my four-and-a-half-year-old is still in pre-K and is just about to enter Kindergarten next year. And I've watched her learn her ABCs, she can count to 100, she knows every color, every shape. And had she not had an opportunity to go to a wonderful preschool program to learn those things, yes, I could have spent time with her and taught her those things, but given that I work full-time, and when I think about the hundreds of thousands, millions of parents who have to struggle with that choice, and then an administration that callously cuts those programs or flat funds them so that fewer, not more, parents have access to Head Start and child care, it's just absolutely unconscionable. I wonder if they have a soul. I wonder if there is anyone in the White House that has a soul and that has a heart. Because surely those kinds of decisions are only made by heartless people.

I am so glad to be joined by the gentlewoman from New York, a wonderful Member, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke. And I am glad that she has also joined me tonight.

Before I turn it over to her, I want to highlight a story of Jennifer from Chicago because, like I said, highlighting the stories as opposed to the studies and the stats is what really shows you the kind of impact that the policy decisions that we make up here when it comes to funding child care programs and Head Start adequately, that's what really matters.

I want to talk about Jennifer from Chicago, who was profiled in a news story on Marketplace radio. Jennifer works as a receptionist at a real estate company. She is a single mom working full-time and going to school part-time. And so many people will hear their own story in Jennifer's story.

Jennifer was doing all she could to improve her life and the life of her daughter. In fact, even though Jennifer was working full-time, raising her daughter on her own and going to school part-time, she impressed her boss so much with her work that she was given a small raise. And then, Jennifer ran into a big problem. With the raise that she got, she could no longer qualify for assistance with the Illinois child care program that she had been using. She literally had such a dramatic shift in what she had to pay for her daughter's child care, it went from $2,000 to $9,000 a year just by that small increase in her salary, and that small increase in her salary caused the $9,000 that she then had to pay, that was 40 percent of her salary, just from the small raise that she got. Her only option at that point was to send her 5-year-old daughter to live with the girl's father a couple of hours away in Indiana. So she had to either give up her job or give up her daughter. But if she gave up her job, she wouldn't be able to care for her daughter, Mr. Speaker. So obviously this is a situation that was not working.

So Jennifer, this is just so sad, she had to go back to her boss and actually ask him for a demotion. She had to ask him to cut her pay by about $100 per paycheck so that she could be eligible for the subsidized child care again so that she could get her daughter back. That was the choice that she was faced with, and it was just awful. I can't even imagine. That meant that her income would again qualify for the child care assistance, and then she immediately applied for it.

So the transition from paying a copayment to paying the full cost of care is what Illinois Action for Children calls ``the cliff.'' People like Jennifer, they fall off the cliff. And we actually penalize people like Jennifer who work hard to try to get ahead. We tell them no, you can't work your way up.

We can't continue to hold these people back. We have got to make sure that we help these people pursue these dreams, advance themselves, be able to improve the quality of their children's education, improve their own lot in life and their family's lot in life, not give them a choice between giving up their children or pursuing a better opportunity in life.

And Ms. Clarke, the National Women's Law Center says that only one in seven U.S. children are eligible for Federal child care help; only one in seven of those kids get it. And in the view of the National Women's Law Center, all these programs for Head Start and child care have never been fully funded by the Federal Government.

I would be happy to yield to the gentlewoman. Thank you for joining us today.


Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Reclaiming my time, you made a reference to your mom and the wonderful quality of care that she provided to the children that she cared for over the years. And then, of course, she made hiring decisions as she moved up the ladder and became a child care director. Your comments about your mom's involvement with improving the lives of children in those programs made me think about finding the information on providers' salaries because it is horrendous that we are actually cutting the funding for these programs for the kids themselves and that only one in seven kids are eligible. But listen to the statistics about how much the providers, the teachers, are actually paid:

The average Head Start teacher's salary, and, now, that's Head Start, not child care. We are talking about two separate programs here tonight so that people understand me because these acronyms get thrown around a whole lot in Washington. We have the Head Start program, which is the high-quality education program that subsidizes and provides high-quality preschool education for young kids who are income eligible, and then there's the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, which is a subsidized child care program that is funded around the States and there's a Federal-State match for.

So the average Head Start teacher's salary varies by the teacher's education. So if you have what's called a child development associate's, which is the first rung on the ladder in terms of an education credential, not a certified teacher but you have a lot of hours of course work that you've taken, an average Head Start teacher with a CDA gets paid about $21,000. If you have an associate's degree, so now you've got a 2-year college degree, you get $22,500. If you have a baccalaureate degree, that is a full-blown college degree, you make about $27,000 in the Head Start program. Now, the average teacher's salary, who also get hired with a baccalaureate degree, is about $48,000, $49,000. So a Head Start teacher, depending on their education credential, makes between $21,000 and $27,000 a year. I mean that is just unbelievable.

Ms. CLARKE. It really is, if the gentleman will yield.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Absolutely. I just wanted to insert that.

Ms. CLARKE. I think it's a very important point because one of the challenges that our very extensive public day care system is experiencing in the city of New York is the stress between being a certified teacher in the public day care center, the salaries received there, versus maybe a couple more course credits and going into the straight into the public schools that calling for more teachers, more qualified teachers, certified teachers, and so we see a bleeding of the system. We went through a very extensive time of advocacy, activism to really mobilize for early childhood education, for day

care, for working parents, for working mothers, and now we are seeing an erosion, all a reaction to a lot of what we have seen in terms of the cuts. So in New York City, where we have had this longstanding system of over 330 day care centers throughout the five boroughs that employ almost 6,000 caregivers, we're seeing day care closings.

And that doesn't mean the demand is gone. The demand continues. The waiting list continues in perpetuity. There will be some children who won't get this opportunity. They will be disadvantaged.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. It's not that the need is not there.

Ms. CLARKE. That's right.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Is it really that if the funding is not there, then these centers can't afford to stay open?

Ms. CLARKE. That's right. So there are some real challenges that we have to look squarely in the eye. And we have to ask ourselves what about the children? How are we preparing ourselves to sacrifice as a society to make sure that in 10 years, in 20 years, in 30 years, we are one of the most competitive nations in the world?

We're struggling with those answers and trying to balance it all out now, but it begins with an investment that we make in our young.

And what we are seeing in terms of these cuts and in terms of the rhetoric coming from the Bush Administration do not bode well, notwithstanding all of what we hear about his care and his concern for the families of our Nation.

Put the money for the mouth is. That's what I say. Put the money where the mouth is. We want to expand and institutionalize early childhood education so that the United States is, indeed, the most competitive when it comes to development of our scientists and development of our engineers and development of those who will have to compete globally as our economy continues to morph with young scholars coming from other nations who have decided, notwithstanding their GDPs, to invest in the education of their children.

And so I just wanted to stop in and share some of my experience with you, Ms. Wasserman Schultz, and to say to my colleagues that we have to stand up. This is a critical issue, and as we reflect on the week of the young child, it is important that we not forget that they come from a community of families, and those families are struggling. They need to be able to be at the job on time. They need to be able to know that their children are safe and in a wholesome environment while they are at work. And that's what these child care centers and these early childhood education environments create for the children and for their parents: a sense of relief and a sense of well-being both for the child and the family.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Absolutely. And I want to thank you so much for coming down and joining me tonight.

What we have been trying to do is highlight the consequences to these horrendous policymaking decisions. And I talked about Jennifer a few minutes ago and what her situation is like. Some of my colleagues from the various States that are represented on this chart mentioned their own States' statistics this evening. But I want to give a fuller picture of what the real consequences are to not funding adequately Head Start and Child Care and Development Block Grants. So this is what it looks like in my State, Ms. Clarke: In my State of Florida, nearly 45,000 children are standing in line for child care. In other words, we have got almost 45,000 kids in my State who are eligible for child care, but they can't get it because we're not funding it adequately, I mean simply because we are not providing enough funds.

I mean what are we spending it on? What is more important? Like you said, the gentleman that you said says the same refrain every single time, ``remember the children,'' that's what it is all about.

I remember being pregnant with my twins and people telling me throughout my pregnancy, Oh, Debbie, you're life is going to change. Just wait. You're not going to believe it. You never imagined that you could care about something so much as when you give birth to your kids. And you sort of nod and smile, and you tell them, sure, you can imagine what it's going to be like. Well, you can't imagine. You can't imagine what it's going to be like until you have them. And that's what everybody tells you. You can't imagine that you could care and love something more than when you give birth to your children. And you would do anything to make sure that they were okay, that they had the best possible life that they could have.

And when parents who are struggling to make sure that they can put food on the table, that they can pay the mortgage, not have the house foreclosed on, make sure that they can have time to go to their job, but, at the same time, have a high-quality child care situation so that they don't have to worry about the one or two or three or however many kids they have that they care more about than anything in the world, what it is this administration doing? Cutting the funding for our most precious resource.

So it's not just Florida. It's not just New York. There are 207,000 kids in California on a waiting list.

How about Georgia? Georgia, Ms. Clarke, that actually has a pre-K program funded by the lottery, which is supposed to provide a pre-K education to all the 4 year olds in that State, and there are only 6 million people in the State of Georgia as it is, there are 24,808, almost 25,000 kids on the waiting list for child care that they qualify for. In North Carolina almost 18,000 kids are on the waiting list, 15,000 in Texas, 207,000 in California. Those are kids that don't have access to child care who are eligible.

Nationwide, it is 365,604 children who are waiting in line for child care. And what do those parents do? What do they do? They have to choose between working. If they don't work, how are they going to put food on the table? How are they going to be able to live? Many of these parents have to choose between whether they are going to be able to hold on to their children or not. The angst that I feel in my heart even thinking about having to make a choice like that. There is no one that should have to make that choice. And that the government, their own government, would deprive them of the ability to care for their kids is just mind-boggling.

Ms. CLARKE. Would the gentlewoman yield a moment? Just think about the mobility of a family that is unable to have their child care subsidized, the time that it will take for them to be able to gain firm footing once their children now get into public schools. And then the challenges they may face with learning deficits, quite frankly, because there are children of means who are being given an opportunity to be in stimulating learning environments when some working class parents just can't afford it. And without the support that we can give, we are really handicapping. We are really tying the arms of these families and these communities. And we know that if we just give people a chance in this society, they can make the best of it. And that can make a difference from one generation to the next.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Absolutely. And let's show people what we mean. And I know you have seen this information before. What we are talking about, when you describe the difference between a parent who can't decide to bring their child to a child care program because there is no money, they can't afford to pay for it, the Federal Government is slashing the funding for it so they don't have a slot funded for their child, even though they are eligible, what happens, like you said, is that you have the parents who can afford it when those kids get to public school, they have already been through several years of prekindergarten, and they arrive at school and start kindergarten at 5 years old ready to learn, which is what the goal of Head Start and these child care programs is. The Federal funding that we provide is designed to make sure those children get to school ready to learn.

And this is the correlation of funding from the Federal Government for child care and Head Start and brain development. We are literally funding it in the opposite direction from the way the brain grows and develops and when we provide funding. So here is when you have the most brain growth, and the most rapid brain growth and the most important point in a child's life for that brain growth, and we are funding it the most when we are well beyond the points that the child's brain growth has not ceased, but certainly when it has slowed.

This chart should be inversed. We should be funding the highest percentage when the child's brain is developing at its earliest point between birth and 5 years old. But we are doing the opposite. It makes absolutely no sense. It really boggles my mind.

And that hurts. We are talking about real kids. I brought pictures of real children who are impacted by these decisions because I think we have to remember what we are talking about here. So often when we have discussions on the floor here, it becomes easy to become desensitized to the fact that we are talking about real people. These are real children who are being cared for. And I am going to tell their story in a little bit. But look at these beautiful children. And this is their caregiver. And I'm going to tell their story in a couple of minutes. But I just don't think it can be forgotten that every funding cut, every decision we make like this affects one of these precious babies. And I just can't even imagine how there is no heart in the White House. Although I shouldn't be shocked after almost 8 years of this administration. It is just unbelievable. We have got to make sure, and the reason that we are here tonight during the Week of the Young Child, is we have to make sure that we push in the next fiscal year, in fiscal year 2009, for an increase in Child Care and Development Block Grant funding the Head Start program. And Democrats have been fighting to make sure that we do that. We passed a wonderful Head Start bill. We have got to make sure that we reverse the lost ground that has occurred after 7 years of flat funding from this administration.

Ms. CLARKE. Would the gentlewoman yield a moment? It is an imperative. As I have said, since I've been on the Hill these past 15 months and have looked just about every crisis in the eye from mortgage foreclosure to the war in Iraq to you name it, education, health care, it all points back to the fact that we are at a specific juncture in our Nation's history that requires courage. And that means the courage to make the proper investments for the growth and development of our Nation.

There is no more worthy an investment for us to make than in these children, than our children, our Nation's children. They will be inheriting from us a millstone around their ankles if we don't do right by them today.

With the challenges that we are facing in terms of the debt build-up in this Nation, it is going to take a whole group of really smart people, really intelligent folk, who use the ingenuity of who we are as Americans to take us to the next level. That investment starts now. You can't invest it in me. It's too late for me. The investment is in our children.

So I thank the gentlelady again. This is a very important special order that we are here, we are at the advent of the Week of the Young Child and that we are speaking out for those families that don't have a voice here, that don't have the high-paid lobbyists, that are really working every day, and they come home, they hug their babies and they just want an opportunity for that baby to succeed.

In many instances, those children are struggling like salmon swimming upstream in environments that are less than wholesome. And were they to be in an early childhood education setting, they would be sure to get a nutritious meal every day. They would have a loving caregiver that also is there to stimulate the growth of the intellect and the brain. And that is why these dollars that are requested, which are really not breaking the bank by any means, are so critical and can reap such dividends in the long run if we do right by them today.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. It is the difference, literally, it's like when a baby is born, particularly to a working family that is not rolling in cash, that is literally struggling to put together their paychecks every month to meet their family's needs, it's like that baby's life begins on a crossroads. And we hold the key to which path they will end up on.

If we decide, like this administration, like the Bush administration has consistently decided during their time in office to cut the funding for child care, subsidized child care and for Head Start, then we are, not always, because there are kids that avoid it, but we are making it much more likely that the path that those kids travel down end up sending them more likely into a life of crime, potentially into an inability or decision not to graduate from high school. They end up dropping out. They make the wrong choices because they don't learn at the earliest stage how to make the right choices. They don't learn the basics. They don't have all the tools that they need to draw upon to be strong, to deal with life's challenges. This is not an exaggeration. This is real.

Ms. CLARKE. The achievement gap is real. It is well-documented. And if these children had that Head Start, had the early childhood education, it closes the achievement gap by leaps and bounds. The clock to education doesn't start when we slide that child into the kindergarten door. There is so much more that goes into it. And I am a witness to what early childhood education can do. I have seen it for generations in New York, for working-class parents, parents that by no means are wealthy, but we had a period of time in our city's history where we understood that early childhood education was a critical component to not only helping working families but to giving those children that educational boost, that stimulating environment, that healthy and wholesome environment while their parents were at work.

There is nothing worse than a parent that has to worry about their child. We hear these horrible stories about people who go to work and leave their child in a car, or worse leave it with a younger child that is then caught in a situation where harm comes to them. We need to be able to allay those types of fears for parents. And this is a win-win-win scenario, our investment in Head Start and Child Care and Development Block Grants. It's a win-win-win scenario.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. It is. And it's hard to imagine what's more important. Should we continue to spend $14 million an hour in Iraq? Fourteen million dollars an hour is what we are spending in Iraq. Yet we can't come up with the funding that we need to make sure that all the kids in this country that are eligible for Head Start and for subsidized child care can actually go.

Ms. CLARKE. Or gentlelady, how about $110,000 a year for a child in juvenile detention?

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. It is unbelievable. So we are choosing to lock kids like that up and spend more money, much more money, than we would spend on them up front to make sure that they get the education and the early start and the building blocks for success that are so much less expensive, but are also just the right thing to do. But for the accident of your birth you should not be in a situation where some kids are getting those basics and other kids are thrown to the wolves. We have these programs so that we can equalize the situation in life for Americans.

Look, we live in a capitalistic society. And that is absolutely the economy that we all support and know and revere. And it has served us well through more than 200 years. But because we live in a capitalistic society, it does not mean that we should be throwing our children, our most vulnerable, to the wolves but for the accident of their birth.

Ms. CLARKE. What it is is the coming of age. Our economy is evolving in ways that generations before us could have never imagined. That means that we have to redouble our efforts when it comes to the education of our young. We have to come up with the winning strategies for Americans to be able to move our Nation forward. This is the way to go. This is the way to go.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. You're absolutely right. I want to tell another story and highlight the impact on another family. We talked about the Head Start program. There are also child care providers who provide wonderful service in those subsidized child care programs. And we have had frozen Child Care and Development Block Grant funding that has led to stagnant and even decreasing reimbursement rates for providers who care for those children receiving subsidies.

In 2006, only nine States paid reimbursement rates that were on par with what the Federal Government recommends. And one of those results is there's an alarming 35 percent turnover rate for child care providers because they can't afford to continue to work in that field.

And I want to tell the story of a young woman named Kelly Matthews. Kelly is a child care provider in Iowa City, Iowa. I want to read you Kelly's story in her own words, because this is how she described her situation.

She said, ``You and I share something important in common. We both go to work each day with a grounded, deeply held belief that we do our chosen work for one very simple reason, to change the world.''

And I know how many times I have said that the reason I do this job is to make the world a better place and to change the world. Kelly is right here with her kids in her program.

She said, ``I don't work in the Halls of Congress, but in my home, caring for children in my Child Development Home in Iowa City. What other reason, aside from wishing to impact the future, could motivate someone to take on a job with modest pay, no benefits and no paid time off? This isn't about a `job' for me. This is my profession, my chosen life's work. And it is an amazing gift I am given each day to partner with the families I serve.

``I have built my childcare program around the ideas of community, caring for each other, and falling in love with learning. I love this work because I have carefully crafted a program where kids succeed in all these areas in amazing ways: When Claire (at 18 months) already knows how to comfort a friend, when Trae (at 5 years old) can easily count and set out the right number of plates for his friends at the lunch table, when Lexi (at 3 years old) works hard to write the names of the members of her family, when Gus (at 3 years old) knows how to care for his things and the things that belong to others, or when two toddlers are already capable of working out a conflict in a peaceful way without an adult's intervention,'' what I wouldn't give for that in my house, ``I know these children will be ready, not only for school, but just as importantly, for life. They will grow into adults that know how to take responsibility for themselves and how to care for others, how to problem solve and be creative in their endeavors, how to keep on trying, even when it is tricky.''

She said, ``I take this work seriously. Approximately 50 hours a week of my time with children in my home, plus all the additional hours of paperwork, supply shopping, continuing education, networking with my colleagues, and add to that total, developing and presenting hours of training to inspire other family childcare providers to constantly improve themselves and their programs. But for those of us committed to our professions and our vision of an inspired word, it is all in a day's work, isn't it?''

That is what Kelly Matthews, this wonderful woman with all her children in her program around her, had to say about her work, and it is the reason that we are standing here on the floor tonight at the beginning of the Week of the Young Child.

I am so pleased that you have been able to join me, Ms. Clarke, and I turn it over to you to close us out.

Ms. CLARKE. I think that your daycare provider has really said it all. I don't think there is a dollar value that can you truly put on the work that these women and men do with our youngest, most vulnerable ones. And they make that sacrifice. Wouldn't it be awesome if they were rewarded and our communities were rewarded and our families were rewarded with a government that responded and really put the funding in place, to not only raise the level, but to get rid of all of those waiting lists that we see. What a difference that would make in every one of our communities around this Nation.

Thank you very much for your commitment.

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Thank you to the gentlewoman from New York.

Mr. Speaker, we think we have made a very strong case tonight at the beginning of the Week of the Young Child to make sure that there is a mandate for this Congress to increase the funding for Head Start, increase the funding for Child Care and Development Block Grants, and make sure that when those little babies are put on the crossroads of the path of their life, that we send them strongly down the right path so that they can have the best life that they can possibly have.


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