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Show Notes

In this episode, our hosts Bruce Lesley and Messellech “Selley” Looby welcome Dr. C. Kirabo Jackson, a researcher, professor, journal editor, and member of President Biden’s Council of Economic Advisors. Dr. Jackson discusses his findings that research with respect to investing in both early childhood and K-12 education consistently demonstrates a high return on investment, particularly for low-income children, and sets future generations on a path to greater success. Dr. Jackson also discusses the role that investments in education can play in reducing disparities in educational outcomes and the well-being of children in both the short- and long-term.

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Full Transcript

Selley Looby  00:03

You know, Bruce, I miss DC so much. We moved to Maryland during the pandemic. And as you know, I have three kids. And we really benefited from Universal Pre K with my oldest it was a true cost saver. And I think even for her development.

Bruce Lesley  00:22

Yeah. Are you having issues now trying to find affordable, but high quality Pre K for your two youngest kids?

Selley Looby  00:30

You know, the crazy thing is, it’s not even an option. I am fortunate to have my son in Pre K now, but he really only qualifies because he has a slight speech delay. Otherwise, this wouldn’t even be an option for him. We had been paying out of pocket for private daycare.

Bruce Lesley  00:46

Yeah, I would say that this is like what we hear, right is that this is the universal parent problem is childcare.

Selley Looby  00:53

Absolutely. I mean, you know, I think it’s definitely a family economics issue. But more importantly, it helps children. You know, I’ve definitely noticed the ease in which my daughter was able to kind of start kindergarten, you know, we say it all the time, but money in education really does matter.

Bruce Lesley  01:15

From First Focus on Children, this is Speaking to Kids. I’m Bruce Lesley.

Selley Looby  01:19

And I’m Messellech Looby. Speaking of Kids is a podcast that puts kids at the center of public policy.

Bruce Lesley  01:31

Money absolutely matters. And my mom, who was a decades long educator, actually wrote several papers for the Texas equity center. And one of them was called Money Matters. And then the second one was Money Still Matters. And as she was writing those reports, and talking about you know why we need to be making investments in public education, and why class size matters, and teacher quality and investing in teachers and curriculum options. And all those kinds of things are so important. And certainly things that we know, as parents are important. She came across this amazing study by our guest today, Dr. Kirabo Jackson, he really did the definitive study on how investing in children and education really has, you know, lifelong impacts on children, positive ones.

Selley Looby  02:24

What I’m hearing is you need to continue her legacy and write another blog piece or a piece that says Money Will Always Matter in Education. Because, you know, you’re absolutely right. And I think it’s something that as parents, you may not, and caregivers and even students, you know anyone involved in education, it’s hard to pinpoint when you’re in it when you’re just in the day to day and you’re in the weeds. But what I love so much about our guests, Dr. Jackson today, is he really breaks down what it means, you know, like, where the money is actually going and what it translates to. And like most things, it’s one piece that that is education, and even how he frames education. And the purpose of schools originally, right is to really grow nice human beings, well rounded, educated, healthy humans. And we’ve gone so far away from that, to really just focusing on test scores and things like that. But I think there’s an awakening now. Parents are starting to realize the state of mental health, the state of nutrition, you know, they’re really looking at schools as an outlet to get those things and setting the bar a little higher.

Bruce Lesley  03:35

Yeah, no, I think that’s absolutely right. He really does get it this issue of how school is holistic. And it’s exactly as you say, you know, it’s not just the educational issues for kids, but it’s also their nutritional needs and their extracurriculars, and even how to the social aspects of how to engage with other people and democracy. Wealthy parents inherently know that investing in their kids, you know, arts and sciences, and drama, and sports is important. And one of the things that a really well funded school does, is it provides those opportunities for all kids.

Selley Looby  04:12

Sometimes you don’t realize what your child is lacking until you may visit another school, you may talk to another parent. And you recognize that wow, like they live in a different part of town, but they’re getting a lot more services like their kids have access to a lot more stuff. It’s becoming even more important for us to think of education as an equalizer, and really investing equally in kids and holistically in kids, right, like figuring out are they having housing insecurity issues? How are their family economics? How can schools really provide and shape because we know if a kid’s hungry or if a kid, you know, slept on the family friend’s couch the night before? It’s hard to really focus on on school?

Bruce Lesley  04:53

That is very true, and it really does speak to the work that our guest today brings to this issue. And something is sort of an organizing principle for us, and that really is that money matters. And so really excited to have him talking about these issues.

Selley Looby  05:09

Yeah, no, he’s a genius, you know, and I think it was so cool that we were able to, you know, pick his brain and really ask him to bring some of his research to life and give it more of a narrative. Dr. Jackson is the Abraham Harris Professor of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. He is also a Professor of Economics, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Research and a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Bruce Lesley  05:40

Currently, Dr. Jackson serves as the Editor in Chief of the American Economic Journal Economic Policy. And just this past August, President Biden appointed him to be a member of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Selley Looby  05:52

Welcome Dr. Jackson.

Bruce Lesley  05:54

Hi, Dr. Jackson, thanks for joining us.

Kirabo Jackson  05:56

My pleasure.

Selley Looby  05:57

Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today. You know, I really want to start, as you probably are aware, you know, First Focus really takes a comprehensive view of all children’s issues, we feel like there’s not really an issue that you can work on in isolation. And in a lot of your research, I feel like you start with just the view of education, the contemporary view of education verse, more of like the historical view of education and the purpose of education. Can you talk a little bit about that? And at what point things shifted, to really focus on more of the contemporary view of education that’s really metrics driven around reading, writing, math, outcomes, etc?

Kirabo Jackson  06:44

Sure, that’s, that’s a great question. And I think it’s a really helpful framing. My sense is that before you can think about exactly how we should be investing in our children, how we should structure our education system, you have to think about, like, why the system exists in the first place. And I think that’s why it’s always helpful to think about, okay, why, why are we doing this? Why do we have a public school system, why are we investing in our kids, and what does the good look like. And if you look sort of historically, probably going back, say 100 years or so, people typically thought of the role of education as promoting well being of children, and promoting and basically the creation of a citizenry that was productive, well functioning, could function in the labor market, and we’re just well adjusted citizens. That was sort of the broad view of what education was about. There was also an element to that about sort of just making sure individuals were productive in the labor market as well, not just well being but it was a much more holistic view of what schools were there to do is about creating an educated citizenry for a productive society. Now, at some point, there was a little bit of a shift towards much more of a view of education, which is about making sure individuals had a particular set of skills that was focused a lot more on reading, writing, numeracy, literacy skills, and to some extent, content knowledge. And these are absolutely important. But I think that shift led to a little bit of a narrowing of scope in terms of what we thought schools should be involved in, or education systems in general, should be involved in towards a much more narrow set of goals. That was driven in part by the fact that these are things that are relatively easy to measure. There was no nefarious aims to play in that in that scenario. But what happened was, as we were better able to measure things, we start to orient our policies towards improving those things. So we started to have standardized tests. And we start thinking about that as being the good, and that orients, the entire system towards promoting those things that we measure, potentially to the detriment of things that we don’t measure. And I think what is going to be important is sort of taking a step back now, and taking something more similar to the historical view, which is that education is really about educating the entire person, the entire child, to create well adjusted citizens. And I think that involves not only looking at the relatively narrow metrics that we can measure with test scores, but also looking at a broader set of things that we could also potentially improve that matter a lot for the well being of children.

Selley Looby  09:08

And I appreciate that, especially again, working at First Focus, we see the connection between education outcomes, and other areas, especially and I know that we’ll get to this in a little bit, but early childhood investments, right, the need for I would say, you know, we’ve been pushing off and on for decades around Universal Pre K, and really making those investments early and often. A lot of our work begins with research evidence and educating members, the general public, your research on education, policy, and funding is among the most important, but before we really dig into your research, can you tell us a little bit about your journey, and why you decided to really focus on this area?

Kirabo Jackson  09:51

So you kind of hit the nail on the head, which is that if you look at data in general, what you tend to see is that among those individuals who have access to better education and those that don’t you see large divides in terms of overall well being, you can sort of see this in terms of, obviously, relatively easy thing. Some measures such as earnings, individuals who have more years of education tend to earn more, they tend to be able to have more stable families, you’re seeing evidence now that you’re also seeing a divide in terms of mortality, individuals who have more years of education live longer than those who don’t. So, you know, there are many, many problems that we have in the world that we want to solve. And it seems that, you know, education is one way that if you can make it better, it’s a lever that you can use to improve a broad set of outcomes for society as a whole. So from my perspective, seeing these differences that tend to, as you as you rightly point out, vary a lot between those that have more education versus less, it seemed like an important thing to study and important lever that we can pull as a society to improve outcomes for all people.

Bruce Lesley  10:50

So my mom, she wrote, Money Matters, and Money Still Matters for the Texas Equity Center. So she was doing sort of qualitative, you know, analysis and stuff and doing sort of a review of the research up until your study. And when your study came out, I’ll never forget it. She called me on the phone and was like, Oh, my God, you’ve got to read this study like this, this is what we’ve all been saying. And it’s like, and he’s, like, completely decimated, you know, the the opposition.

Kirabo Jackson  11:18

The naysayers.

Bruce Lesley  11:19

Yeah, yeah. So I just, I just wanted to tell you that, you know, we’re big fans in our family.

Kirabo Jackson  11:24

That’s very kind. I mean, one thing, one thing I will say. And to be perfectly honest, I think most of the things that my research is pointing to is kind of known by people who know education, they know the system. And it’s completely obvious to most people who are paying attention to what’s going on. And I think the difference is, I come at it from a very quantitative lens, which I think tends to garner more attention than people who come at it from a qualitative lens. So by and large, it’s certainly nice to hear people say nice things about my research, I don’t think it’s all that it’s insightful. All I’m doing is applying a different set of tools to answer questions that I think people kind of knew the answer to. And for sure, the effects are impactful. But, you know, I think people who’ve been paying attention these these answers are not surprising.

Selley Looby  12:14

To that point, you did a study, well, I don’t know if you actually did this study. But there was a study done in 2013, and two counties in Illinois outside of Chicago, that really highlight what it looks like when there’s a drastic variance in investments in kids, you had one county that invested a little shy of $10,000 per student and another county, I think that was almost that, like $28,000, or $29,000 per student. And we’ll get to this in a little bit. But you are the ultimate professor and Doctor around advocating around the fact that money does matter. And there’s a lot of people that counter that argument. But can you talk about what that study showcased? And why investments and money does matter when you really break it down?

Kirabo Jackson  13:02

That’s a really great question. And one of the things I really appreciated about that particular study was it really highlighted what it means when you see differences across schools, and how much they spend per kid, you know, when people talk about the fact that well, you know, we don’t have to spend more money because the money may be wasted. They’re not really thinking about it in terms of the lived experience of the kids on the ground. So in that particular piece, what they documented was that in the school district, that was spending, I think it was somewhere around $27,000 per child, they had extra curricular activities provided for the kids, they had time for wellness and movements for the kids, which again, this all takes money. They had organic meals provided for the kids every day, they had all these additional wraparound services for wellness, mental health, all these things that we think really, really matter for facilitating a broad, well adjusted individual in society. And then when you looked at the other school district that was spending somewhere around $7000 or $8,000, per child, there was none of that they had to have one special ed teacher who was maybe shared across different school districts, you had one person who was providing music instruction for multiple school districts, they didn’t have dedicated staff for particular areas that we think are really, really important, the school was smaller, they certainly didn’t have organic meals, they did not have extra time where they would have wellness breaks to move around. And you could just imagine, if you had a child, and you could choose where you’re going to send your child, it’s pretty clear, you’d want your child to go to the one that was better resourced, relative to the one that had less resources. And I think is really important to sort of lay it out because oftentimes people say, oh, well, you know, there’s enough money, all the additional money that may go into the system is all wasted. I think that that’s a view that when you look at the realities of what the money actually goes to, most people would say actually, those are things that I think are valuable, and I would want that for my child. One of the things I really, really appreciated about that particular study was that they gave life to the idea that like there are differences in not only the amount of money that is spent per kid, but the actual experience on the ground for those children. is very, very, very different. Anyone who sees these schools will want to send their kid to the one that had more resources, not because money matters per se, but because you can see that it translates into a variety of things that we all think are meaningful inputs into the educational outcomes of kids. And I want to sort of tie this back to the first question you asked about having well rounded kids and not focusing only on sort of the numeracy and literacy skills, a lot of the additional money that you saw at the schools went towards these other services that really helped facilitate and much more well rounded individual.

Bruce Lesley  15:30

Your research is so fundamental to making the case on why money matters, in education. But even more broadly, it’s just so important to our field. I guess our question is, what types of educational investments have you found to be the most important for improving student outcomes, particularly for poor kids? And I grew up in a property poor school district in El Paso, Texas. So I totally know. Love your research for those reasons, but also children of color, kids with disabilities? And are there particular strategies that schools should prioritize with additional funding?

Kirabo Jackson  16:05

So yeah, I mean, one thing I would say and one thing I really appreciate about First Focus is that your your focus not only on what’s happening in the classroom, but broadly and looking at a broad range of ages. And I think that’s one thing that I think is really, really important. Oftentimes, we have the conversation about spending in early childhood, or we have a conversation about spending in K 12, we have a conversation about spending in higher ed, and really, you know, these things are connected to each other. And I think we should take a broader holistic view. So the first thing I would say is that we should take a sort of broad view of what we mean by investing in kids, and we should think about the connectedness between those levels of spending, for example, in some of the research that I’ve done with Rucker Johnson, we sort of looked at the interplay between what happens when you spend in Headstart and how that influences the kids who attend those centers, and how that affects the extent to which they can benefit from increased spending in the K-12. space. So what we basically found was that when you spent more money on Headstart, lower income kids who are the ones who are disproportionately attending these, these programs benefited a lot more from the K-12 dollars, when they subsequently enrolled in those schools. So it was one of those things that like spending early actually made the later spending more effective, and vice versa. So the way that we sometimes think about it in this sort of siloed way, we think, Oh, what are we going to spend it here? Or are we going to spend it here, the conversation really should be we should spend it everywhere. And we should think about how spending early makes the efficacy of our subsequent dollars even higher, which I think means we should invest early, and we should sustain those investments over time, we should invest sort of early and often is what I would say. In terms of things that I think investments that particularly have benefits for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. You know, there are a lot of great programs out there. One of the really simple things, it’s not particularly exciting, but which is simple is just sort of smaller class sizes is really, really, really important. The other thing, which I would highlight is just access to excellent instruction. Now, one of the things which is, which is a little bit of a challenge is the schools that serve students from disadvantaged backgrounds are typically the same schools that have very, very high levels of teacher turnover. So while you might have excellent educators in the room, you have a lot of new teachers who are still just learning the ropes in those schools at the same time. So what that means is the students who are in the schools that have the typically their families have less resources at their disposal, oftentimes, those are the schools that have access to just say, less experienced teachers, a lot more turnover. And the turnover itself also is deleterious to the outcomes, because it means that when you train these teachers, those expertise are going elsewhere. And typically what happens is the teachers start out at the less advantaged schools. And then when opportunities arise, they move up to the schools in the more affluent neighborhoods. So the students who are benefiting from the training that they may have gotten in the last event of schools, they’re not seeing the benefits there. So what I think we need to do is we need to invest in programs to keep the teachers in the schools, reduce turnover in the schools that have higher needs, is another way to sort of make sure that we have high quality instruction for the kids that needed the most.

Selley Looby  19:09

And Dr. Jackson, you also talked extensively about long term outcomes, really, you know, beyond test scores, which as you pointed out, has become kind of the default to measuring success and outcomes. Your research touches on long term outcomes as it relates to an increase in education funding, and you tie it to incarceration rates, adult wages, also adult poverty. Can you walk us through the correlation between long term outcomes and early investments in children?

Kirabo Jackson  19:38

Sure. So there’s a lot of good research, some of which I’ve done, but others have done as well. That has documented a pretty strong effect of just having access to high quality early childhood education and subsequent outcomes later in life. And one of the findings from these papers, which is somewhat of a puzzle in the literature is sometimes these programs It will have effects on test scores. And you may see these things sort of go away over time. So you may have these these programs into, there are a few examples of this, where you have early childhood, when individuals are four and five years old, you might see they have slightly higher test scores when they’re six or seven. But by the time this sort of eight or nine, those test score gains, basically fade away. But what studies have found is that if you look at the outcomes of these children, several several years later, you find that they’re doing better in terms of just educational attainment in general. So even though their test scores are no better, they’re getting more years of education, they’re staying in school longer, which I think is indicative, potentially, of these kids gaining what we sometimes call soft skills, or socio-emotional skills, or non-cognitive skills, another term that people use, I don’t love that term, because I think everything’s happening in the brain. So it’s all cognitive. But broadly speaking, there are a whole set of skills that kids are getting when they’re enrolled in high quality, early childhood education, that are not necessarily reflected in test scores, but you’re seeing it in an array of outcomes. When you measure them later on in life, you see it in terms of increased educational attainment, like I’ve already said, you see it in terms of reduced criminality, you see it in terms of reduced incidence of things like teen pregnancy, and a whole host of things that we think matter a lot, but are not necessarily well measured by test scores early on. So what I think is essentially happening is we need to zoom out from what is happening inside the school and what we can measure and think broadly, kind of circling back to the initial conversation about what is it as a society that we think is valuable? And how might we generate improvements on these outcomes? And I think early childhood is absolutely one of the first places we should start to do that.

Selley Looby  21:38

Dr. Jackson just gave us evidence why investing in early childhood is beneficial to all of us.

Bruce Lesley  21:43

And we’ll explore more of that in just a minute.

Leila Nimatallah  21:48

Making the world a better place for all children can seem like an impossibly huge task. Some of you may be thinking, I’m just one person, what could I possibly do to make a difference? I’m Leila Nimatallah, Vice President of Advocacy and Mobilization at First Focus on Children. And I’m inviting you to join us and become one of our volunteer advocates, whom we call our Ambassadors for Children. Ambassadors are our most active child advocates who raise critical issues with the US Congress, and with the administration related to child policy and funding decisions, both for kids in the US and worldwide. But don’t take my word for it. We asked one of our ambassadors to share her experience. Hello,

Annette Bridges  22:39

Hello my name is Annette Bridges, also known as Dr. B. And I live in Louisville, Kentucky. The welfare of children and their families is a deep concern for me, and really always has been. Especially those from marginalized communities. I care about equity in education, resources, and help. And I’m not quite sure what it’s going to take for our elected officials to invest in our children. And I mean fully invest in our children. It really boils down to the haves and have nots. It’s a selfish attitude if an elected official does not consider children as a priority. I say selfish, because if you think about it, other countries with less resources can provide universal preschool as an option for families, then why is it that our country can’t do that as well. I am proud to be an Ambassador for First Focus on Children because they are serious about the work they have done, are doing and will do in the near future. Their efforts are relentless. Think about being an ambassador for them being a voice for the voiceless. I can’t think of anything else more worthy. Thanks for listening. And it’s been my pleasure to talk about what is near and dear to my heart. And that is children. Thank you for your time.

Leila Nimatallah  24:01

So please join us won’t you? Check out, on how to become a first Focus on Children Ambassador and to link up with our fabulous community of committed child advocates.

Selley Looby  24:29

First Focus on Children is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority and federal policy and budget decisions

Bruce Lesley  24:38

First Focus on Children moves beyond individual issues to serve a more important role Children’s Advocacy. We educate lawmakers and the American public about the issues facing children.

Selley Looby  24:48

In just a few minutes. We will bring on our teammate, Senior Vice President of Budget and Tax Michelle Dallafior to talk about investments in kids and overall budget decisions as it relates to children and families.

Bruce Lesley  25:02

Let’s get back to Dr. Jackson and the new member of the Council of Economic Advisers. In addition to your awesome research on things around early childhood and education, what are the recommendations you have, like so I know your your new role in the Council of Economic Advisers, Are you also looking at things like the Child Tax Credit or school nutrition? And so what other correlations are you seeing and things that we should be investing in as well?

Kirabo Jackson  25:30

Absolutely. It’s a great question. So yeah, I mean, one thing I would say is all investments that tend to center children, there’s a lot of research that has found that those have a very, very high return on investment. And one thing I want to sort of make clear is, oftentimes we talk about the costs of programs. And it turns out when you invest in children in ways that gets them to be more likely to earn degrees and go and earn more money later on in life, those investments essentially pay for themselves over time. And you can sort of just see this mathematically. You know, you invest in a kid for two years, when they’re three or four, or you invest in kids, when they’re at home through things like the Child Tax Credit, which is one thing that you mentioned, in things that may help families in general, those investments tend to generate more years of education for children, and they earn more money, but they’re in the labor market for like 40 years. During that time period, they’re paying taxes, which goes back to the government, they’re also much less likely to be on programs that cost the government money. So they’re much less likely to be on essentially social safety net programs, which cost the government money. So when you factor in the increases in taxes, and the reduction in dependence on social benefits, oftentimes, these programs end up paying for themselves in the long run. So it’s really, really important to sort of highlight the fact that these are programs that are really, really beneficial for the lives of kids. It’s really, really beneficial for the lives of families. But it also in the long run actually has a benefit for the government’s financial situation, as well. All of those programs are absolutely things that we should be investing in. You mentioned CTC, that’s absolutely one that we should be investing in. There’s good evidence that things like the Earned Income Tax Credit, all these programs that really invest in kids Food Stamp Program, WIC, all those things are tremendously important. And most of the programs is kind of remarkable. When we’ve looked at the data and tracked individuals over time, we tend to find long run effects that such that these programs are very, very cost effective. And they benefit kids, they benefit families, and they benefit the society writ large.

Bruce Lesley  27:28

One of the things I think that we talked about a lot here, at First Focus is sort of the invisibility of kids, right? Like they don’t have political power. But it’s not just political, right, I think. I mean, the work you do in research, kids are also an afterthought. There’s not many researchers who do the outstanding work that you do, you can go to Google Scholar, and you do any kind of topic. There’s lots of other things, and kids are sort of an afterthought there, too. So just curious, like, you know, what do you think the barriers are like, we all care about kids, but then they just constantly come up as sort of an afterthought? What are the barriers? Do you think that that we’re facing to making this case? Because the evidence is clear, right, and yet, we’re just not doing it? So, you know, what are we missing here? As a society?

Kirabo Jackson  28:17

I think there are certainly many people who are focused on on kids, researchers, as well as you know, organizations like yours. But I think they’re kind of two issues. One, as you rightly pointed out, kids don’t vote. So for that reason, they just, there’s just less of a political voice there. But I think another aspect of it is that the benefits of investing in kids is something that we don’t see for a long time. So a little bit of it is that that the gains associated with investing in children are not salient today. So like some of the research that I do, that I’ve done, you know, I’m talking about kids that were in school in like the 80s. Like, basically me. But you know, investments that happened in the 1980s, we’re seeing the gains in terms of improvement in outcomes now. So what that means is when we’re telling people oh, you should be investing in kids, you should care about kids, we should care about investing in their future. And we’re telling them, oh, yeah, you’re going to see the benefits in 30 years, you know, that doesn’t have the same ring to it as oh, by the way, if you invest in these outcomes right now, you’re gonna see gains right now. So I think a lot of it just has to do with the sort of the time inconsistency between when the investments occur and when we see the benefits of those investments. I think that’s one of the problems that we have in conjunction with the fact that kids don’t vote. So I don’t think it’s that people don’t care about it, I just think is that the gains, the benefits to these investments are just not as salient as some other kinds of investments.

Selley Looby  29:36

Dr. Jackson, this has been wonderful. You know, for me, as a parent, I’m now curious to know how much my county is spending per child and what that translates to, because we’re not getting organic meals over here. You know, one question we ask all our guests is, if there’s a song or an album that really gets them motivated, as you alluded to, some of this work is hard, and sometimes you feel like you’re taking one step forward, and then you know, a few steps back. So for you, what would that be? What do you do to get amped in the morning?

Kirabo Jackson  30:07

That is a great question. I can’t say I have a go to song. These days when, when I just kind of want to pick my spirits up, I typically go to like my Afro Beats Mix, which has a lot of things that just kind of have a good beat that pop. That’s my go to at this point.

Selley Looby  30:21

So we plan to make a playlist and Afro Beats will fit perfectly in it. Again, thank you so much for your time, Dr. Jackson, it was a pleasure.

Kirabo Jackson  30:31

Thank you so much, and thanks for the work that you do.

Selley Looby  30:38

So we’d like to introduce Michelle Dallafior, our Senior Vice President for Budget and Tax Policy, at First Focus on Children. Welcome, Michelle.

Michelle Dallafior  30:47

Thank you very happy to be here.

Selley Looby  30:48

All right, let’s jump into it. As you just heard, you know, we had the great Dr. Kirabo Jackson, on the podcast. And you know, he’s from the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. And he was here talking about his research that really shows investing in early childhood education, and K-12. Education can have an enormous short and long term positive effect on children and really society overall In your role, you know, as leading budget and tax policy here at First Focus, can you tell us what the short and long term trends are, in terms of making investments in children?

Michelle Dallafior  31:25

Happy to do that. So in my role, I oversee a large coalition called the Children’s Budget Coalition. It’s comprised of over 80 different child and family advocacy organizations, and the major product we use in our meetings with Capitol Hill staff and members is the annual Children’s Budget Book where we track what the spending trends are in the programs and then overall, so we can take a look at how are children faring, what is the share of the federal budget for kids programs? In the long run, we have been on a downward spending trend for kids and the share was declining. More recently, in 2020, we saw a record low where the share of federal spending on children dropped to 7.4-7.5%. Then during the pandemic, and its economic fallout, we saw an increase in investment in our children across the board, and the share of federal spending in FY 21 and 22 bumped up to nearly 12%. That’s a significant increase. And during that time, we now know with the child poverty data that came out in 2022, child poverty was nearly cut in half in 2021. We know that investments work, and we can see positive outcomes for children in one year, look what we did to cut child poverty. So that’s pretty amazing. Unfortunately, we are not sustaining those investments in children, as many of the supports and different programs that we augmented and increased spending on kids during the pandemic, those programs have expired, and the funding has gone away. And we are seeing a drop in the share of federal spending on children down to 9.8%. So will back down below 10%, basically at pre pandemic levels. So we have our work to do.

Bruce Lesley  33:24

We at First Focus, we all talk all the time about money matters. And here’s why it matters from your perspective, like why does money matter?

Michelle Dallafior  33:31

I have a couple of immediate thoughts that I think will make good common sense to people listening. One, there is a breadth of programs that help ensure kids can live happy, healthy, safe lives and thrive. And they cover a whole broad policy range. So if we’re investing in a nutrition program to ensure our kids aren’t hungry, that’s fantastic. But then if we’re poking the bubble over here and taking away from Title I education funding so that we don’t have high quality teachers in the schools, that’s a problem. And so we have to ensure that we are investing in the whole child, all these different programs work together. And yes, maybe there are things we can do to improve how they work together. But they work together to ensure our kids, all our kids, have a shot at thriving. We can’t just kind of keep moving the bubble around. We need a solid significant investment in our kids. And then the second point I would make is exactly what Dr. Jackson is talking about. We might invest in our youngest kids, because we’re thinking brain development is happening so rapidly there. It’s so important that we invest in in our youngest kids, but we can’t stop there. And that’s the point I really feel he’s making strongly in research. All the research he’s done and others have done back that up. We invest in our youngest, but we need to continue to make sure that they can thrive in school that they stay in school that they have the all the supports they need for healthy development.

Selley Looby  35:12

You know, Michelle, right now, the US House of Representatives and the Senate are considering funding for fiscal year 2024. In your opinion, how are children faring in that process? Wow.

Bruce Lesley  35:22

As you know, only too well. We’ve seen, you know the house, making cuts to education spending like dramatic cuts, and they’re not funding fully the Women’s Advancement Children’s Program for nutrition. And they’re also making significant cuts across the board to just a whole array of things like shocking things like we’re we’re witnessing right now increases in maternal and infant mortality and child mortality. And they’re cutting programs that address those things. So in light of all that, I’m sure a lot of our listeners would want to do something about that. If they would like to weigh in on this. What would be your advice? What should they do?

Michelle Dallafior  35:22

Well, the short answer, Selley is not a good one. It’s a really unusual year, the way we are proceeding and all the years I’ve worked on appropriations and budget issues, this one stands out. It’s unique and quite frankly, troubling. Kids are faring reasonably well over in the Senate, not perfect. We still have some concerns in the Senate, but far, far better than what is happening in the House of Representatives. Every single bill in the House of Representatives is cutting kids programs, dramatically, harmfully. We’re looking at significant cuts to so many different programs. Some of the appropriations bills are more than 30% cut from previous years. And they aren’t adhering to the debt limit deal. So if we’re looking at what the house is doing, kids, it’s it’s really dire for for children and their families. Ideally, we’re going to, we will figure out a way to come to some some way to reconcile the differences that aren’t so painful for kids. But that pathway forward is complicated, and requires everyone who’s listening to this podcast to make the case with their members of Congress and their lawmakers to prioritize kids in these budget decisions.  I think they should talk to their neighbors. They should go to public events where their members of Congress and their senators may be participating in in conversations with their constituents. I think if they have the time, they should send emails, make phone calls. And it’s a simple message you have to protect children and their families as you make budget decisions in the coming weeks and months.

Selley Looby  37:49

Michelle, thank you so much for joining us today. Your insights were so helpful at helping us understand this whole process. Thank you.

Bruce Lesley  37:58

Yeah, we really appreciate it.

Michelle Dallafior  37:59

Happy to be here. I will come back. Things are going to be interesting in the coming weeks and months. So anytime you invite me back on I’m happy to join you.

Bruce Lesley  38:08

Awesome. We know we will. So thank you very much This is Speaking of Kids. Thanks for listening. I’m Bruce Lesley.

Selley Looby  38:21

And I’m Messellech Looby. Special thanks to our guests Dr. Kirabo Jackson and Michelle Dallafior.

Bruce Lesley  38:28

Speaking of Kids this podcast by First Focus on Children.

Selley Looby  38:32

Elizabeth Windom is the supervising producer and Julia Windham is the Associate Producer.

Bruce Lesley  38:37

Leila Nimatallah as the Advocacy and Mobilization Producer and the Senior Producer is J. Woodward.

Selley Looby  38:42

Our theme music is Don’t Look Twice by Sam Farsh.

Bruce Lesley  38:46

For more information about this week’s episode, go to You can find all the links in our show notes.

Selley Looby  38:53

And if you have any thoughts questions or interest in becoming a First Focus on Children Ambassador, email us at speakingofkids@first

Bruce Lesley  39:03

And please follow, rate, and review on Apple podcast, Spotify, or YouTube

Selley Looby  39:07

Speaking of Kids is produced by Windhaven Productions and Blue Jay Atlantic