When Shutdown Shutters Head Start, the Arnolds Open Their Wallets

After learning that Head Start programs across the country are starting to shutter as a result of the government shutdown, philanthropists Laura and John Arnold decided to step in to help fill the funding gap, making a donation of up to $10 million in emergency funding to the National Head Start Program, which provides early childhood education to nearly one million at-risk children every year.

On September 30, twenty-three programs in six states that serve more than 7,000 students ran out of funding. They had already been allocated federal funding to continue their services, which they expected to receive October 1, but with federal offices closed, they have yet to receive the funds.

Dozens of classrooms in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Connecticut and Missouri have already been forced to close their doors, impacting well over 3,400 students, and causing more than 500 teachers to be temporarily laid off. Luckily, the generous donation from the Arnolds will allow the teachers to be rehired and the classrooms to be reopened, and prevent the imminent closure of other classrooms that suddenly and unexpectedly lost their funding last week.

National Head Start Association Executive Director Yasmina Vinci, however, warned that this is only a temporary fix. "The bottom line is that angel investors like the Arnolds cannot possibly offer a sustainable solution to the funding crisis threatening thousands of our poorest children," Vinci said in a statement. "Our elected officials simply must find a fiscal solution that protects, preserves and promotes the promise that quality early learning opportunities like Head Start offer to nearly one million at-risk children each year."

If the shutdown drags into November, the Association warns that programs in 41 states and one U.S. territory serving more than 87,000 children will lose their funding. This comes on top of sequestration cuts, which have already caused more than 57,000 children to lose their spots in Head Start this year.

Laura Arnold is an attorney and former oil company executive. John is an investor who managed a relatively unknown but wildly successful Houston-based hedge fund until 2012, when he retired at just 38 so he could focus full time on philanthropy.  Their combined net worth is over $2.8 billion, half of which they have set aside for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. In 2012 alone, they gave or pledged to give more than $423 million to charitable causes. In addition to education, their main areas of interest are criminal justice, government accountability, and research integrity. 

Increasingly, educational experts are beginning to recognize the importance of early childhood education. Indeed, proponents of expanding access to quality educational opportunities for children between 0 and 5 were ecstatic that Obama was elected President, as part of his platform included universal preschool education. Unfortunately, setbacks such as the sequester and the government shutdown have been taking their toll, but the good news is that this is one issue where there is a general bipartisan consensus, as well as strong philanthropic support.