by Colleen Flaherty
As preschool access is being denied to tens of thousands of low-income students, lawmakers are taking a giant step towards providing early childhood education to students across the country. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Rep. George Miller (D-Calif) and Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) have introduced the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, an extensive bill that would legislate President Barack Obama’s plan to expand preschool.
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“High-quality early childhood education represents one of the best investments our country can make,” said Arizona teacher and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.
“High-quality early childhood education and full-day kindergarten are fundamental to a student’s long term success and shouldn’t be determined by their parents’ income. Investing now in preschool programs will end up saving states and the federal government billions over decades—and most importantly, doing all we can to ensure all children have the tools they need for academic and social success, is the right thing to do.”
The early childhood education proposal is an ambitious 10-year initiative to expand early learning opportunities for children under five. The bill would completely fund preschool for children from families earning below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and encourage states to provide additional funding for children from families who earn above that income.
Hanna, the Republican cosponsor of the bill, believes preschool for all children is not just the right thing to do, but a good investment for the nation.
“By focusing on early education we can begin to break the back of intergenerational poverty, producing more taxpayers and a more competitive America through a better-educated, growing middle class,” said Hanna.
“One in four children starts their life in poverty. This bill will help ensure their lives do not end in poverty.”
Study after study shows that education for children before five yields significant long-term benefits for students. Teachers and parents of young children have also seen firsthand how crucial early childhood education can be.
Kimberly Jones is an Arkansas middle school teacher who adopted her son out of the foster care system. When he was two, he was tested and diagnosed with developmental delays.
“My son benefited from the Head Start program both academically and socially,” said Jones. “Today, he is a second grader who has no delays, and as a first grade was on the honor roll all year.”
In the proposed bill, Head Start, the current preschool program for low-income children, would partner with states to expand early education.
As an educator, Jones said, “I see the benefits of Head Start programs both professionally and personally. Head Start programs are important for young children to develop their love of learning to carry them through their entire academic career.”
As a former Head Start teacher and current elementary special education teacher in Washington state, Roxanne Nalumisa can attest to the boost preschool gives to students.
“I can testify to the dramatic, emotional, social and academic growth these children make as a result of their participation in Head Start,” said Nalumisa.
As a current educator in a public elementary school, I see children who arrive at school with no previous formal preschool experiences, and these children lose valuable learning time adjusting to the school environment. Educating our children should be the number one priority of this country.
Tracey McGuire teaches English as a second language in Minnesota where many of her students receive free or reduced lunch.
“The access to preschool for these kids is limited to Head Start and Head Start always has a waiting list,” said McGuire.
While her students are struggling to learn a second language and come from low-income families, her students are at a major disadvantage when they come to kindergarten with no previous schooling.
“Being an [English Language] student is hard enough, but being an EL student with no preschool experience is really setting a child up with a gap in education that will be daunting to overcome,” said McGuire.
“On the flip side, I see the EL students that come into my program with prior preschool experience and they are ready to learn, they grasp the concepts more easily, they have academic knowledge and vocabulary that allows them to jump in and take off. My EL students that have preschool education are at an advantage. It is an advantage that all EL children need. It is an advantage that all children need.”