by Colleen Flaherty
Last week, President Obama delivered his State of the Union address and reaffirmed his commitment to provide quality pre-K for every 4-year-old, especially for the 26 percent of American children who live in poverty.
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Legislators from both parties are behind the president. Both the Senate and the House held hearings this week to discuss legislation that would make preschool more accessible for all children.
“President Obama stressed that early childhood education is one of the smartest investments we can make. I couldn’t agree more,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash) earlier this week.
Unfortunately, existing programs are not currently equipped to provide preschool for kids in need. For example, Head Start only reaches about two-fifths of eligible preschool-age children.
“As a former preschool teacher, I know the difference it can make in a child’s life. Preschool offers young learners the building blocks they need to go to kindergarten, ready to tackle the curriculum. The path to greater opportunity in this country starts with a quality education.”
Individuals who were enrolled in quality preschool programs earn up to $2,000 more per month than those who were not, and young people who were in preschool programs were more likely to graduate from high school and own homes. Children in quality preschool programs are less likely to repeat grades, need special education, or get in trouble with the law later on.
Not just that, but from an economic perspective, high-quality prekindergarten programs can pay for themselves in as little as a year, and over decades, these programs can save billions, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
“Investing in children at a very young age makes sense from a moral perspective, because we are a nation that does not turn our back on those most in need. It makes sense from a business perspective because we are a nation that is constantly working to support our businesses. And it makes sense from an economic and academic perspective,” said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), one of the cosponsors of the Senate bill.
Both the House and Senate bill would establish a new federal-state partnership to accelerate progress already underway and help states fund high-quality prekindergarten for four-year olds from low-income families; encourage states to support prekindergarten for four-year-olds from moderate-income families; and encourage learning opportunities for even younger children – for example, through partnerships with Early Head Start programs.