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Bipartisan Bill Offers Better, Fairer Education
Ed Walz (Former Staff)Education
Washington – The First Focus Campaign for Children, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization, today endorsed comprehensive early education legislation making quality pre-Kindergarten (pre-K) affordable for every child in America. The Strong Start for America’s Children Act was introduced today in the U.S. Senate by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman George Miller (D-CA) and Congressman Richard Hanna (R-NY).
“High-quality pre-K cultivates the ‘soft skills’ prized by employers, so this legislation gives today’s kids a better chance to compete in tomorrow’s economy,” said First Focus Campaign for Children President Bruce Lesley.
The legislation would make high-quality pre-K affordable by establishing a federal-state funding partnership similar in concept to the highly successful and bipartisan Children’s Health Insurance Program. It authorizes nearly $27 billion in federal funding to support qualifying state pre-K initiatives over five years (2014 through 2018), and it authorizes additional appropriations through 2023. States receiving federal funds must ensure that high-quality pre-K:
Is affordable – for all four-year-olds in families with annual incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty level (about $23,500 for a family of four, in 2013);
Works for all children – by establishing early learning standards that align with their K-12 education systems and are appropriate for the children they serve, taking into account their developmental, language, and cultural needs;
Meets quality standards – like minimum staff qualifications, evidence-based maximum class size, child-to-staff ratios, and health and safety standards, and provides comprehensive services including nutrition, health screenings, physical activity opportunities, and opportunities to engage families; and
Improves outcomes – though it prohibits states from relying on a single assessment, the bill requires that states report on their progress increasing school readiness, narrowing school readiness gaps between children of different races and incomes, and reducing special education placements.
Children who attend high-quality pre-K programs show improved academic achievement and are less likely to drop out of school, become teen parents, or be convicted of a crime later in life. But existing pre-K initiatives vary considerably in quality, and at an average cost of about $8,800 a year, high-quality private pre-K programs are out of reach for many families. Children in Latino families are much less likely than their peers to have access to affordable, high-quality pre-K.
“It’s about fairness – quality pre-K levels the playing field, especially for poor kids, but it only works if parents can afford to enroll their kids,” said Lesley.
The legislation also recognizes the linkages between pre-K and early care and education for infants and toddlers. With center-based child care costing more than public college tuition in many states, parents often face difficult choices while at school or at work. To address this, the bill authorizes more than $1.4 billion to support partnerships between Early Head Start centers and child care providers serving children through age three. The proposal also establishes new partnerships to improve child care quality and dependability for participating children.
“Pre-K doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and we’ll get better lifelong results if we get child care and early education right from the start,” said Lesley.
Children’s Budget 2013, released by First Focus in July, found that 7.82 percent of federal spending is invested in initiatives serving America’s children. The more than $31.5 billion in new early childhood care and education investments in the Harkin/Miller-Hanna proposal would increase that share to 8.7%.
“Children are often an afterthought in federal budget debates, so it’s encouraging to see Republicans and Democrats working together on a significant new investment in America’s children,” said Lesley.
The First Focus Campaign for Children is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization affiliated with First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization. The Campaign for Children advocates directly for legislative change in Congress to ensure children and families are the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit www.ffcampaignforchildren.org.