Duncan, Sebelius Update Early Learning Community on SAFRA

The early childhood community is closely watching the progress of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) as it moves through Congress, because the proposed legislation would create the Early Learning Challenge Fund—an unprecedented investment in the nation’s children totaling $9.3 billion over the next decade.

On Wednesday, Feb. 17, more than 600 early learning practitioners and advocates from across the country joined a conference call with Secretary Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. You can read the transcript, or listen to the conference audio. ED and HHS will jointly administer the Challenge Fund if Congress acts to create it. The bill passed the House of Representatives in September and awaits action in the Senate.

As its name suggests, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act also seeks to make higher education more affordable, by expanding financial aid for needy students and investing in community colleges—”something that will benefit the caregivers, teachers and supervisors working in early learning programs today,” Secretary Duncan said on the call. “They’ll have access to the financial aid that they need to pursue the certification, bachelor’s degrees and advanced degrees they need to improve in their job and move up the career ladder.”

SAFRA’s early learning and the higher education agendas will be paid for by ending taxpayer subsidies to banks. As Secretary Duncan explained, taxpayers currently subsidize banks for supplying student loans—to the tune of nearly $9 billion a year.

“We believe the banking industry has had a free ride from taxpayers for too long,” Secretary Duncan said. “We want to cut out the middleman and invest these staggering annual savings in our cradle-to-career plan to improve education for students of all ages.”

The young children who would benefit from the Early Learning Challenge Fund will eventually benefit from SAFRA’s higher education provisions, Duncan said. “Someday well past 2020″—the goal President Obama has set for becoming the most college-educated nation in the world—”the children born this year will be looking to pay for their college education. The choices made in Washington today can help them pay for college when they’re ready.”

Secretary Sebelius added: “There’s an old saying that if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. If we believe that early childhood development is worth doing, and certainly we do, we need to commit to doing it well. And so the bill pending is a chance for us to take a big step in that direction.”

More details on the Early Learning Challenge Fund is available in this fact sheet. Additional information on SAFRA, including the version of the legislation passed by the House, can be found at the Committee on Education and Labor’s website.