I recently voted to use $1.2 million of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s budget to keep 170 low-income children in Head Start programs this school year. The program had been cut due to the federal sequester. Each dollar put into quality early learning experiences returns at least $7 to society through increased productivity, while also reducing the need for federal assistance and fewer teens/adults entering the criminal justice system.
Congress is resuming a variety of debates right now, but one of the most heated arguments should be in favor of restoring the 5.2 percent cut, or $416 million, of the $8 billion dollar that goes to government spending on Head Start education each year. More than 50,000 children nationwide could be denied early access to education as a result.
The decision by Congress and President Obama to allow cuts to Head Start is tantamount to economic suicide. Many children—soon-to-be adults—will lack skills necessary to graduate high school, and the rate of success for dropouts is incredibly low.
In Silicon Valley, one of the wealthiest regions in the world, we have hundreds of children on waiting lists to get into Head Start. A family of four with an annual income of less than $23,000 qualifies. With federal dollars, Santa Clara County only serves 50 percent of the children eligible for Head Start.
Last week, a commenter wrote in response to my Open Letter to President Obama, “[Y]ou keep swinging for the fences and you keep whiffing.” Another asserted, “… I get more irritated that you side step the real problems here … the infighting and politics I see in the educational system is just sickening.” There is truth to both critiques.
In my 4-plus years on the county Board of Education, I have tried to do right for each and every child. That has meant criticizing tenure and seniority hiring laws for K-I2 teachers, supporting quality charter schools and performance pay practices, and advocating for innovation in alternative education programs. If one examines my voting record and my writing, an overarching theme emerges: Reforming our current system of public education—and increasing achievement for all—has always been my focus.
I believe it is our nation’s security and economic development, as well our stature as an economic and military super power, depends upon improving the results of public schools. A recent study found that 75 percent of America’s youth are not qualified to join the Armed Forces.
By focusing on early education, we will become more secure as a nation, productivity will increase, crime will diminish, and graduation and college enrollment rates will soar. Allocating the dollars to make this a reality will be continue to be my major area of work on the board.
Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.