Billionaires Save Head Start During Shutdown

John and Laura Arnold have set an example that our elected leaders should follow.

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John and Laura Arnold (Laura and John Arnold Foundation)

(The Root) -- There has been very little news worth celebrating during the current government shutdown, making it hard to decide which news is more depressing: that our leaders are collecting paychecks while hundreds of thousands of federal workers, including Secret Service agents and Capitol police, go without theirs; that politicians refuse to put the needs of the American people and the health of the U.S. economy ahead of their own egos; that they have made us a global laughingstock; or that they're behaving like children -- well-compensated children.

These sad facts are the reason that news of one family's plan to fund Head Start is so refreshing. John and Laura Arnold are bona fide members of America's so-called 1 percent. John became a billionaire through his work with hedge funds. He and his wife have previously made headlines for their support of President Obama as well as for their commitment to philanthropy. Their foundation has already given away tens of millions of dollars and will give away many millions more upon their death. Laura said in a previous interview, "Because of our backgrounds and because of our own experiences, we just don't believe in dynastic wealth," meaning that they will not be leaving their fortune to their three children.

But while there are many wealthy people who give to charity, few willingly give to the government or government programs. If anything, many wealthy people display a distrust of government programs and how their tax dollars are used to fund them. Which is what makes the Arnolds' latest move so noteworthy.

Upon learning that many Head Start programs -- pre-K programs that serve students from the country's neediest families -- would be closed during the shutdown, the Arnolds did something extraordinary. As reported in the Daily Mail, the couple have donated $10 million of their fortune to keep Head Start programs operating -- programs that would have had to close their doors because of the government shutdown. The Arnolds' incredible act of generosity is expected to benefit thousands of children who rely on Head Start to learn the skills needed for their early school years and whose parents rely on the program to have a safe, affordable place to take their children while they work.

But what makes the Arnolds' act particularly significant is that, unlike some wealthy people who bought into Mitt Romney's 47 percent argument that some Americans earn money and deserve it and others simply take it, the Arnolds are wealthy people who earned their money but who understand that America's future will be brighter if they share it with children who are not born into the same opportunities as their children. The Arnolds understand that investing $10 million in Head Start programs today is a heck of a lot cheaper than investing in prison or homeless shelters tomorrow.

They also seem to realize that besides making good business sense and a smart investment, with invaluable returns, generosity of spirit is good human sense. It makes our people better and it makes our country better. But it requires people who are willing to put the needs of others ahead of their own wants.

Here's hoping that our leaders learn this valuable lesson from the Arnolds' selfless example.

Keli Goff is The Root's special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

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