Tax Day riddle: Why must preschoolers pay for corporate tax loopholes?



By Amanda Litvinov / photo © NEA

As many Americans scramble to file their tax returns before midnight, some of the country’s most successful corporations may not realize it’s Tax Day at all. Some, in fact, have yet to pay a cent in taxes this year. Or last year. Or the year before that.

Thanks to a slew of tax loopholes that only the most successful corporations enjoy, a dozen mega corporations that made a total $175 billion in profits between 2008 and 2010 had a combined tax rate of negative 1.4 percent in that time period, according to a study by Citizens for Tax Justice. An NEA analysis of that data puts the estimated cost of those corporate tax subsidies over the past decade at $1.487 trillion. Yes, trillion.

One of the many things working families have been forced to sacrifice to enable these giveaways to Big Business is proper funding of vital public services, including education. And a new report shows that one area where we’re certainly letting the nation’s children down is in early childhood education.

Despite all that we know about the crucial role that high quality early childhood education plays in  students’ lives–particularly for those from low-income families–we are allowing a backwards slide in enrollment and quality, areas that saw great improvement before 2008. Early ed sustained deep cuts during the state budget crises over the past several years, according to “The State of Preschool 2011,” a report from the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

A few disturbing top lines from the report:

  • Total state funding for pre-K programs decreased by nearly $60 million nationwide, following a decrease of $30 million in 2009-2010.
  • State spending per child decreased by $145 from the previous year (adjusted for inflation). Without funds from President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the drop in per pupil funding would have been substantially sharper, reaching the lowest amounts in a decade.
  • Only 12 states could verify that they provide enough per-child funding to meet all 10 benchmarks for quality standards.

Conclusion: There is less funding for preschool and there are more families than ever that need it. There are fewer programs meeting the high-quality benchmarks even though it is well established that high quality pre-K is a necessary element in closing achievement gaps. No wonder American parents’ optimism about their children’s futures has reached an all-time low.

We can still do right by our kids. If lawmakers close just the seven most egregious tax loopholes, investing 25 percent of the resulting revenue in high-quality preschool programs would result in an estimated 2.5 million additional preschoolers served.

Tell lawmakers to stop listening to corporate lobbyists and start listening to parents, educators and other advocates for children: Three- and four-year-olds deserve investment, too. Join the 9,000 other activists who have signed our petition to close corporate tax loopholes.

And pay close attention to what anyone running for office says about early childhood ed. Republican front-runner Mitt Romney has been very vocal about his belief that early education programs hold little value (and his record as governor of Massachusetts reflects that belief—the 2006 “State of Preschool” report called him out, saying “pre-kindergarten access slipped steeply backward during the Romney administration”).

C’mon, Romney: Corporations aren’t people—three-year-olds are!

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