122495228Ensuring that every child has access to comprehensive high quality early childhood education is an idea whose time has come. This year, 27 governors mentioned early childhood care and education in their state of the state addresses and the President spoke about preschool in the State of the Union. The benefits of pre-K are well documented and people from diverse fields, from educators to economists and business leaders,
have stated their support of preschool. Yet high quality preschool is still not available to every child
in this country. In fact, as the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) annual State of Preschool Yearbook reveals, this is the third year of cuts to state-funded pre-K after funding rose consistently for a decade. Each year that goes by without high quality preschool available to every child who wants it means millions of children miss out on the major benefits of preschool, and there is no way to get those years back. We need a major new initiative that will make high quality early childhood education available to every child, and we cannot afford to wait any longer.

The President’s budget request included just such a bold new initiative, and it is important for Congress to take up this issue. While there might not be agreement on the best way to finance early childhood education, there should be agreement that we need to ensure that every childhood has access to high quality early learning experiences. A few key provisions from the president’s plan should be included in any legislative preschool initiative, including:

  • Making sure that every child who wants to can go to preschool. This is an issue of equality. Currently, children from high-income families go to pre-K at high rates because their families want them to and they can afford pre-K in the private market when publicly funded pre-K is not available. Yet children from middle- and low-income families have limited options in both the private and public sector for pre-K, which means drastically lower rates of children in these families are enrolled in pre-K.
  • Children from birth to age 5 should have access to comprehensive services. Beginning with voluntary nurse home visiting, which gives expecting and new mothers parenting information, resources, and support that results in improved parent-child relationships, development of early language and literacy skills, and reduced child abuse and neglect. Families should also have access to high-quality, affordable child care so parents can go to school or work while their child is in a safe, healthy environment and pre-K so their child is prepared for kindergarten.
  • All children should have access to full day kindergarten, and grades K-3 should provide continuity of comprehensive services and focus on developmentally- informed instruction focused on the whole child.

The 113th Congress will have multiple opportunities to address early learning as a priority – the pending reauthorizations of Head Start, IDEA, CCCDBG, and ESEA should provide a coherent and aligned vision for new investments in high quality early learning for every child. The sooner we get this done, the better off our country will be.