Rep. George Miller introduced a student loan bill last week that includes $8 billion over the next eight years for high-quality early learning programs. By early-learning standards, that’s a head-turning figure (though it is apparently a drop in the bucket in banking circles, as the overall bill generates $100 billion in funding by cutting private lenders out of the student loan business).
The early learning section of Miller’s bill would create an Early Learning Challenge Fund, which would award competitive grants to states to improve the quality of and access to early education. The bill would:
- Raise early-learning quality by matching practices to what evidence says works best and increasing program monitoring and tracking of outcomes.
- Build “an effective, qualified, and well-compensated early childhood workforce.”
- Push states to increase the number of disadvantaged children in high-quality early learning programs (with “disadvantaged” defined as in families earning below 85 percent of the state median wage).
- Provide increased support to parents and promote family involvement in their children’s early education.
- Create a coordinated screening system for medical, health, and mental health needs.
This is huge. The challenge fund could bring millions of dollars to Washington state to boost both quality and access to early learning programs. And, as we’ve blogged before, providing high-quality early learning to disadvantaged children is the best way to erase the educational achievement gap.
The difficulty of finding and paying for high-quality child care has been made worse by the down economy, when mothers’ incomes are desperately needed in an increasing number of families. (Timisha Daniels’ story at the beginning of a recent Parade article on child care nicely illustrates what an economic trap lack of affordable child care puts families in).
Rep. Miller’s bill takes a significant step toward addressing the nation’s need for high-quality early care and education that’s available to all children.
The bill passed the House Education and Labor Committee this week and will be up for a full vote from the House sometime soon. Click here to send a message to your member of Congress in support of the bill.
-by Carolyn McConnell
photo by acpl