ICYMI: Chairman Murray Holds Senate Budget Committee Hearing on Investing in our Future: The Impact of Federal Budget Decisions on Children

Murray627Photo Source: Tri-City Herald 

Today, Chairman Murray and the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing about the impact federal budget decisions have on our children. As Chairman Murray said in her opening statement, “…there’s one group in particular whose voices are not often heard when it comes to the federal budget process—and that’s our nation’s children. They may not be walking the halls of Congress—or calling up their Senators—or strategizing with lobbyists about how to protect funding for their programs. But they deserve a seat at the table, even if they need a booster seat to get there.” 

Audience627A full house watches the testimonies

Witnesses627Witnesses Head Start parent and local student Shavon Collier and Sakhia Whitehead, First Focus President Bruce Lesley and Acting Director of Voices for Virginia’s Children Margaret Nimmo Crowe

Children testify at and attend Senate Budget Committee Hearing 

Whitehead1627Photo Credit: Ed Walz, First Focus

10-year-old Head Start graduate Sakhia Whitehead testified about how Head Start has helped her stay on the honor roll in school, and several other children were in attendance at the hearing. 

Whitehead2627Photo Credit: Ed Walz, First Focus

In her testimony, Sakhia spoke about how pre-school made her more prepared for kindergarten: 

I graduated the Head Start program at the Edward C. Mazique Child Center five years ago, but I do remember how much I liked it. I remember them teaching me how to read and write my name. I also remember sometimes seeing the doctor there to get a checkup. Head Start helped me get prepared for kindergarten. When I got to kindergarten, I already knew how to read and write. But my new classmates did not. So kindergarten was pretty easy for me.”

“I tell my brothers all the time how much I loved Head Start. I tell them it can help them in school, because I know it helped me to be the Honor Roll student that I am today. I have been on the Honor Roll since I started elementary school and I’m very proud of that. I want my brothers to follow in my footsteps.  Today, my favorite subject in school is math, which not many people enjoy. But when I grow up, I want to be a teacher so that I can continue to teach children like myself and help them to succeed.”

Watch the full video of Sakhia’s testimony here.

Bruce Lesley of First Focus, and Margaret Nimmo Crowe of Voices for Virginia’s Children told stories about the impact sequestration is having on children across the country and in states like Virginia.

Lesley627Photo Credit: Ed Walz, First Focus 

Bruce testified, “If sequestration remains in place, the pain is only going to get worse. Already, families have lost housing supports and more children will face homelessness in the coming years. In anticipation of further cuts, schools in Idaho have already made plans to cut the school week from five days a week to four. We’ve heard from the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, that some schools, particularly in rural areas, are likely to be forced to close entirely if cuts continue….As a result of sequestration, schools districts have been forced to lay-off teachers and drastically reduce support services to needy students and students with disabilities. Some schools have eliminated athletics and all extra-curricular activities as well as some bus routes, making it more and more difficult for kids to get to school. Head Start programs have had to close weeks early or kick children out. One program in Columbus, Indiana, literally held a lottery drawing to decide which family would lose their seat. That’s a contest no parent wants to win.”  

Margaret Nimmo Crowe described some of the ways sequestration is hurting children in Virginia, “In York County, where Dennis Jarrett is chief financial officer, the school district has reduced 124 positions over the last four years. Jarrett explains: “One of them was a guidance counselor—a tough position to keep unfilled when 42 percent of the students are connected to the military or some other branch of federal government. Parents’ deployment and frequent moves put unusual emotional strain on children. What we’re concerned about…is the quality of life for our students.” and “In Prince George [County], 41 administrative, instructional and support personnel have been lost because of the budget squeeze since 2009, and this has occurred while they have gained 150 new students. 

Read some of the reports referenced by Margaret and Bruce in their testimonies:

FYI: The 2013 version of the First Focus Children’s Budget will be released in July at the Children’s Budget Summit, sponsored by Chairwoman Murray.

testimony627Photo Credit: Ed Walz, First Focus

Senator Kaine (D-VA) asked witnesses about the importance of federal investments in children with special needs 

Senator Kaine noted, “the reduction of funding to focus on children with special needs has an immediate effect on those children, and we’re seeing those reductions very sizably based on sequester—and then if the House budget were to go into effect, they would have a significant effect as well… If you reduce money for young kids with developmental delays, you block their ability to get that assistance at a young age and then basically get right back on the on ramp and be right where the rest of their colleagues are. I learned that again and again in working on early childhood education issues in Virginia, that just a little bit of early intervention for youngsters who have a developmental delay might mean years where they’re not in special education classes when they’re in the K-12 system, that’s both great for them and also saves us a lot of money. “ 

Shavon Collier, Shakia’s mother, testified about the way Head Start helped identify a developmental delay in one of her children: “Head Start also helped to identify a developmental delay in my youngest daughter when she was very small. I was able to get speech therapy for her and the comprehensive services that she needed. Now she is also spelling her name and speaking a lot clearer than before. She will be ready for kindergarten too and I have no doubt she will one day be on the honor roll with her siblings. Without Head Start’s ability to address a wide variety of needs, I do not know where my child would be today.”

Senator King(I-ME) pressed Dr. Mulhausen of the Heritage Foundation about the importance of early childhood education 

Senator King:  What I’m trying to get at is, what do we draw from that, that programs can’t work, or that this particular one in the aggregate didn’t work but were there successful ones? I’m interested in improvement, not elimination.

 Dr. Muhlhausen: Well, it is very hard for the federal government to take a small-scale program and blow it up on the national scale and have it be effective. Since 1990, there have been about 20 large-scale randomized experiments of federal social programs. The only one of those evaluations find a positive, consistent effect, and that was welfare reform. All the other job training programs, the early childhood education programs, the various multitude of other programs that were looked at, housing vouchers, all failed the test of being effective. The federal government has a hard time taking an effective idea done on the local level and blowing it up on the national level. 

Senator King: What if it simply provides funding and allows the local levels to determine how the program works? 

Dr. Muhlhausen: Well I think, you know, in many cases the federal government’s doing that, and the problem is is that, when we assess the—we need to assess the—whether it works or not, we need to actually go in there and evaluate and see if it works. And there are far too many programs today that are operating that don’t get assessed. We may have some real good programs that we don’t know about because we’ve never evaluated them. But the thing is, when we do do a national, large-scale evaluation of federal social programs, we almost always find disappointing results.

Senator King: But I get back to the idea of, is the concept good but the execution not good, assuming—I’m assuming, by the way, the validity of the study, and I think there are questions about that study and what the persistent grounds are that don’t necessarily get picked up in various kind of tests—but assume that. If the—I can’t believe you’re going to, you would testify that early childhood education doesn’t matter.

Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) highlighted the importance of job training programs such as Job Corps 

Senator Whitehouse: “ About three quarters of high school, of people who enroll at job corps, when they get started, before job corps kicks in, when they show up, when they first and roll, about three quarters of them are high-school dropouts, on average they read at an eighth grade level, most have never had a full-time job... a child showing up for job corps is in a different set of—facing a different set of challenges than their age-group peer.”

Key Excerpts from Chairman Murray’s Opening Statement, and from other Members of the Committee

From Chairman Murray’s opening statement:  “[Children] are being asked to bear a large share of spending cuts, despite the fact that children clearly did not cause our debt and deficit challenges. I think this is simply wrong. In fact—it’s a national embarrassment and we need to fix it. We cannot and should not solve our debt and deficit problems on the backs of our children. It’s wrong for our kids and it’s not good economic policy.” 

“If you’re looking for an investment that’s going to pay off, quality early childhood education is one of the best places to put your money. We should be investing more in our children, but sequestration is taking us in the wrong direction.”

“The across-the-board cuts of sequestration make deep cuts to programs like these—and the House Budget takes these cuts even further. If they had their way, low-income children would be left more hungry and in less stable home environments, the number of Americans without health insurance would rise, and the most vulnerable families would be put at greater risk. That isn’t fair. And it’s not right.”

“While I share many of my colleagues’ goals of reducing our debt and deficit and reducing our debt to GDP ratio over the next 10 years, I do not share many of their beliefs that indiscriminate cuts are the answer. We can’t ask our children, especially our most vulnerable children, to bear the burden of our spending cuts.”

Read the full text of Chairman Murray’s opening statement here

WATCH Chairman Murray give her opening statement.

Senator Kaine: “We ought to be committed to investing in our kids. We ought to be making sure our investments are done in the best possible way. We ought to be a culture of continuous improvement, always wanting to be better tomorrow than we are today.”

Senator King: “I have five children and five grandchildren. You cannot tell me that all the hours I spent reading to those kids when they were one and two and three years old didn’t matter. I know it matters. Early childhood education is probably one of the best investments we can make. The challenge, it seems to me, is not to say we shouldn’t do it, but that we should do it better.”

Chairman Murray presses Dr. Muhlhausen of the Heritage Foundation about his criticism of including voices of people like Sakhia at Budget Hearings.


Chairman Murray pressed the minority witness, Dr. Muhlhausen of the Heritage Foundation, about the comments in his testimony which criticize the inclusion of stories from people like Sakhia and Shavon in committee hearings.

Watch the exchange here.

A rough transcript of the exchange is below: 

Chairman Murray: Mr. Muhlhausen, I read your testimony, and you criticized all of us in Congress who listen to people at hearings who in your words, and I quote, “come hat in hand” and express their quote self-serving and personal opinions, and you question about personal observations or experience being useful. I happen to think that as a legislator it really makes a difference when I go home and hear from families in my communities about the impacts that the federal government has on their lives. And I think it’s really important that we listen to those kinds of people. You just had an opportunity to hear from two here, and I’m just curious, do you think what we heard from Ms. Collier and Sakhia was not worth it for us to hear today? 

Dr. Muhlhausen: …Programs that are funded on a national level, the federal government doesn’t just operate a program in a single location, it funds locations all over the country. And you have to look at the national effect, whether these programs actually work or not. You can always find somebody who’s going to praise the program, but Congress never invites anybody to say, well you know what, I don’t know if the program works or not, or the program doesn’t work. Congress never invites those people, because the idea is always to find people who are going to praise the program and ask for more money. And right now we have a huge debt that we just can’t afford. 

Chairman Murray: Do you think the perspective of Sakhia, who lived through this program, is important for us to hear? 

Dr. Muhlhausen: Well, I think it’s important, but you can’t judge the national effectiveness of a particular program based on one person’s opinion. You need to look at the scientific research. 

Chairman Murray: Well I would just say to you, I’m not trying to judge the entire program, I just think when I go home and hear people from all different kinds of walks of life, which is what every member of a legislature does, and we have an opportunity hear from them today, it is important for us to hear. So I just wanted to clarify that. I was kind of offended by your remarks in your testimony.