Important legislation to increase children’s access to high-quality early education was introduced in Congress yesterday. First Focus Campaign for Children supports the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, a bipartisan bill that will provide access to high-quality pre-kindergarten (pre-K) for low- and moderate-income children to ensure kindergarten readiness and create a continuum of early education for children from birth to age 5.

The bill will create a state-federal partnership to fund preschool for four-year old children from families earning below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). A similar federal-state partnership can be found in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which, like the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, requires states to meet quality benchmarks but also allows them flexibility to implement the program in the best way for their state. CHIP is also bipartisan and has had great success at increasing children’s access to health insurance.

To qualify for funding from this bill, states must have: established early learning standards appropriately aligned with its K-12 system, the ability to link preschool data into its K-12 system for children in federally-funded early childhood education programs through a state-assigned student identifier number, an established State Early Childhood Education and Care Council, and ability to provide state-funded kindergarten.

States will also be required to report on performance measures and targets that include increasing school readiness, narrowing school readiness gaps, reducing special education placements, and reducing the need for grade retention. This will ensure that state pre-K initiatives are effectively serving children with high-quality early education experiences, and allow states to improve their pre-K initiatives over time.

Within each state, providers will be expected to meet specific standards in order to receive subgrants from the state. These quality provisions include: requiring high staff qualifications, ability to offer a full-day program, and the ability to provide developmentally-appropriate, evidence-based curricular and learning environments aligned with the state’s early learning standards.

The importance of access to high-quality early education is well documented. This legislation turns research into policy, and gives our children the opportunity to enhance their social and emotional development by participating in engaging and safe environments.

Senators Harkin, Murray, Casey, Sanders, Murphy, Baldwin, Warren, Hirono, Coons, Kaine, Gillbrand and Wyden, and Representatives George Miller, and Richard Hanna have shown a dedication to investing in our nation’s children to ensure they are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten, benefiting those children, their families, and the entire country.