This Wednesday the Senate HELP Committee held an executive session to review Senator Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) Strong Start for America’s Children Act (S. 1697) in its latest effort to ensure all children have access to high-quality early education. By a partisan vote of 12-10, the bill was recommended favorably by the committee without any amendments.

The Strong Start for America’s Children Act would help to close the current opportunity gap created by inequitable access to early education based primarily on family income. The high costs of many private early education programs have proven to be unaffordable for many low and middle-income families, leaving them with difficult decisions to make about their children’s preschool. While public programs offer a more affordable option for families, the availability and quality of these programs are often inconsistent from state to state. Under the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, all public pre-K programs would be required to uphold certain quality standards including:

  • Teachers must have at least a BA and specialized training in child development
  • Classrooms must be kept under 20 students with an environment that fosters learning
  • Curricula must be developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate
  • Wraparound services must be provided to support healthy development

Senator Harkin’s bill makes a clear investment in kids by creating federal-state partnerships to both fund and monitor early education for all 4-year-olds. This approach gives states the flexibility they need to make pre-K more affordable and effective while maintaining high-quality standards across the country.

During Wednesday’s mark-up, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) highlighted the strengths of the federal-state partnership strategy, drawing comparisons between Strong Start and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. CHIP continues to provide affordable, comprehensive health insurance to children through individual state programs that are the product of federal-state partnerships. Senator Casey urged the members of the committee to support Senator Harkin’s bill in order to make the same advancements in early education that CHIP has made in children’s health coverage.

Although Senator Lamar Alexander’s (R-TN) block grant substitute was voted down, it is clear that both Republicans and Democrats have made early education a priority this legislative season. Research has shown that high-quality pre-K is a major contributor to future professional and academic achievement, resulting in a nearly $7 return on investment for every $1 spent on programs. First Focus fully supports the Strong Start for America’s Children Act and encourages Congress to pass this important piece of legislation for kids.