Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education. Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every 4-year-old. And as a parent as well as a president, I repeat that request tonight.
A year ago, President Obama released the outlines of a bold new initiative to put quality pre-kindergarten within reach of every child in America. On Tuesday night, the President reiterated his request, emphasizing the promise of early learning.
The American public agrees. According to a bipartisan poll conducted earlier this year, 70 percent of Americans support a plan to help states and local communities provide better early childhood education programs to children from birth to age 5—and want Congress to act now.
Congress has shown signs of agreement with the President. Last month, early learning was one of the biggest winners in the recent federal Appropriations bill – receiving a more than $1 billion increase in federal funding for Head Start, Early Head Start, Child Care and preschool development grants to states. These funds filled some of the hole that the sequester dug, and gave some additional support to programs that have been shown to help shrink the opportunity gap. Every member of the Washington State Congressional delegation—Democrats and Republicans alike—voted to support these essential programs.
But more needs to be done. Far too many of our youngest learners still lack access to the high-quality early childhood education opportunities necessary for success in career and life.
Our sights are set on the passage of the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, a bipartisan bill that will help our children get a strong start in life, rooted in President Obama’s proposal from the 2013 State of the Union. This is a top economic priority for our country in 2014.
The Strong Start for America’s Children Act, co-sponsored by Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell as well as Rep. Suzan DelBene, would enable more young children from low- and moderate-income families to participate in high-quality early education by helping states and communities build their own quality early childhood education programs.
Washington State has been expanding our early learning programs, but we have a long way to go before all families who want to provide a high quality preschool opportunity for their children are able to do so. Increasing federal funding will help Washington and other states continue home-grown programs, serving more children and families.
It will take federal-state partnerships to ensure the greatest success for children and the largest economic return on investment.
Making investments in high-quality early childhood education is not just a social policy to help children prepare for the K-12 years. It is a clear economic solution backed by a proven body of research, high returns on investment, and it’s the right priority for our policymakers. It’s why we’re advocating at the state, local and federal level to improve the early learning system.
This is what our country needs to remain competitive in the global economy. By increasing federal investments, we can ensure that our children do better in school, acquire the skills necessary to compete in the 21st century economy, get higher-paying jobs, and contribute more to the economy as adults.