It’s not just sound science to give kids under age 5 the chance to build a foundation for future learning. It’s also good politics.
A bipartisan research team recently found overwhelming support for ensuring that children gain the knowledge and skills necessary to start kindergarten off on the right foot.
Researchers polled 800 voters across the United States, outlining the broad contours of a federal proposal to help states and local communities expand early learning programs for children ages birth to 5. Voters’ responses revealed two encouraging facts:
First, preparing our children for success in school and life is a non-partisan priority. Democrats, independents and Republicans all supported the plan by margins of 6-in-10 or greater.
Second, voters see a role for government in early childhood development. Nine out of 10 voters say it is important to make early education more affordable for working families. Nearly as many (86%) want the federal government to help states and local communities create more high-quality, accessible early learning services.
Giving kids a strong start – in a pre-K classroom, a child care center, or a family member’s home – matters to people of all ages. Early learning helps close the educational opportunity gap faced by too many children, a disproportionate number of whom are children of color. It’s also a smart use of taxpayer dollars, reducing later expenditures in health, education and criminal justice.
Finally, it’s a promising way to accelerate the national post-recession recovery. The survey found that Americans’ foremost priority is to increase jobs and economic growth. That’s a goal well suited to a state-federal early learning initiative. There’s robust consumer demand: just 3 in 10 of our nation’s 4-year-olds are in high-quality pre-K. The infrastructure is in place: small business child care and early learning programs are embedded in every community across our state. And the workforce is so large that reform can make a substantial economic impact. Here in Washington, the number of people employed in child care and pre-K is greater than the number of firefighters and aerospace engineers combined.
Federal lawmakers are considering a proposal to do as voters wish. It provides all low- and moderate-income 4-year-olds with voluntary, high-quality pre-K. It also allows for high-quality early learning opportunities for infants and toddlers. And it helps parents become their children’s first, best teacher through voluntary in-home parent education. The plan would be paid for by an increase in the cigarette tax, and it would not add to the federal budget deficit.
Washington’s Congressional delegation ought to include this smart, popular initiative in the next federal budget.