News Column

American Children Deserve Federal Investments in High-Quality Early Learning Programs, Witnesses Tell Committee

February 5, 2014

WASHINGTON , Feb. 5 -- The Ranking Democratic Member of the House Education & the Workforce Committee issued the following news release: High-quality early learning can improve educational outcomes and strengthen our economy, and Congress must invest more in these programs, particularly to aid low-income working families who lack affordable, quality choices for their children, witnesses testified before the House Education and the Workforce Committee today. "Ask any parent in America how important access to pre-K is for their family, or whether the quality of their child's program matters. They will tell you how important it is that their children are in a safe, high-quality learning environment," says Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), senior Democrat on the committee. "We know from years of empirical, longitudinal research that high-quality preschool leads to good short- and long-term educational and economic outcomes for children, particularly for those from low-income families." A Government Accountability Office (GAO) survey of federal investments in early education services found that just two programs provide the bulk of the federal role in early learning. Other existing programs provide specialized early learning support services, such as assisting children with disabilities and improving literacy. Despite some overlap in the purposes of existing programs, the GAO could not find any duplication in early learning services. "There is not just one program that works. Children need a continuum of early learning services, and a commitment to infants, toddlers, their families, and preschoolers alike," says Harriet Dichter , executive director for the state of Delaware's Office of Early Learning . "One size does not fit all. It is fine to have a range of key programs and different hours of service because children and their families have different needs. It is in all of our best interests to be responsive and to focus on providing quality, expectations and support for high performance, and sufficient financing so that will get our children off to the best start possible." Currently, many families are not able to access the early learning programs that their children need and deserve. Only one in six children eligible for federal child care assistance receives it. Less than 45 percent of eligible children have access to Head Start . Barely half of three- and four-year-olds are enrolled in state preschool programs, and that percentage is even lower for low-income children. "Greater child care and early education investments at the federal, state, and local levels are needed because low-income, working parents lack access, can't afford services, and don't have enough good choices," says Rep. Miller, co-author of the bipartisan Strong Start for America's Children Act (H.R. 3461), an innovative, 10-year federal-state partnership that would expand and improve early learning opportunities for children nationwide. "That's why we are doing something about it. We have more than 60 organizations supporting my bipartisan Strong Start bill, ranging from business leaders to law enforcement to military leaders to elementary school principals. On top of that, 500 state legislators from both parties sent a letter in support of the bill." The Strong Start Act was introduced in November 2013 and currently has 84 cosponsors in the House, including both Democrats and Republicans. "But let me be clear, until this Committee and this Congress decide to act on this issue in a responsible way, we are ceding control of legislating and of managing this funding to the administration," says Rep. Miller. "The future of our nation depends on turning this around and providing high-quality early learning for all children." Despite the comprehensive body of evidence on the benefits of early education and the fact that states across the country are increasing resources for early learning, with at least 30 states bolstering early education investments in the last year, Republicans in Congress continue to oppose providing sufficient federal funding for these programs. The recently approved FY 2014 omnibus appropriations bill provided some funding for early childhood education, but represented just a small amount of what's needed. "I think we're on a track here that's supported by both parties, but one party just can't quite step up to provide the resources to do it," says Miller. "And yet, every day, the validity of the impact and the importance to students is growing. [...] What's that last kernel of evidence that's going to make you [Republicans] understand that this is important, that government should be doing it? [...] I guess this debate will continue to rage. It's a tragedy, because every moment we fail to empower [organizations] with the resources in Rhode Island or California or anywhere else to form these partnerships [...], we just postpone the future for these children." Expanding access to affordable, high-quality early learning programs is an important part of the House Democrats' economic agenda for women and families, "When Women Succeed, America Succeeds," which seeks to address the economic challenges facing today's women and families. TNS 30FurigayJof 140206-4628663 30FurigayJof

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Source: Targeted News Service

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