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The Hill - Investing in Young Children Delivers Valuable Dividends

Op-Ed

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


The Hill - Investing in Young Children Delivers Valuable Dividends

Participation in a high-quality early education program builds the foundation for a child's success in school — and in life. Scientists and other experts assembled at the National Summit on America's Children in May, an event organized by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), presented compelling research on the value of early education for children and for our entire nation. With limited public resources, we get the biggest "bang for the buck" by investing in our children in their earliest years. The Speaker understands this and under her leadership Congress is poised to act on this knowledge.

We have introduced two separate bills in the House to support voluntary, high-quality preschool: the Prepare All Kids Act of 2007 (HR 2859) and the Providing Resources Early for Kids (PRE-K) Act of 2007 (HR 3289). These proposals would provide grants to states to enhance the quality of their preschool programs and expand access to more of our nation's youngest children. Early childhood education advocates have praised our legislation as "a new standard in federal support for high-quality pre-kindergarten education."

The current reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act presents an ideal opportunity for Congress to emphasize the importance of high-quality preschool programs that help children enter school ready to succeed. By adding an early education title to NCLB, Congress will take an important step towards fulfilling our nation's commitment to provide an outstanding education to every child in America.

Teachers consistently report that children who participate in high-quality preschool are more ready to learn when they enter kindergarten and perform better during their elementary school years. Children in quality programs are found to have better language and math skills and have fewer disciplinary problems.

Early education not only benefits the children who participate but also the entire community. Studies of the economic impact of high-quality preschools consistently show positive returns on every dollar invested. Providing high-quality preschool for every child in America would deliver savings and revenue increases of eight times the cost of funding enrollment, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute. Researchers at the Brookings Institution have shown that these investments would provide long-term benefits to our economy, adding $270 billion to per-capita GDP after 45 years.

These economic benefits emerge from the positive effects that early education produces in children's lives, such as decreased special education costs, improved graduation rates, and increased lifetime earnings. These add up to have a significant impact on state and federal budgets.

Many state governments have already recognized the importance of providing for children's early education by increasing funding for preschool by $2 billion in the past three years. In 2006, 38 states served nearly 950,000 children nationwide. In addition, Head Start continues to provide vital early education and comprehensive services to many families.

In spite of these significant federal and state investments, the demand for preschool continues to far exceed the supply. As the popularity of these programs increases, enrollment numbers are climbing faster than ever, often without a corresponding increase in funding. This means that more children are being served with fewer dollars, decreasing the quality of their early education experience. While high-quality programs make a positive difference in children's lives, low-quality, poorly funded programs do not. This is why we need more public investment focused on maintaining and increasing quality in early education.

Ensuring that every preschool program meets nationally recognized quality benchmarks is essential if these programs are to produce lasting benefits for children and their communities.

The goal of increasing capacity to meet the high demand poses another challenge that states are struggling to meet. Only 20 percent of all 4-year-olds and fewer than five percent of all 3-year-olds are served nationwide.

Congress should step in to support the leadership that the states from Hawaii to New York have already demonstrated by providing federal grants to help close the gaps in quality and capacity. Without this federal support, access to preschool will continue to vary widely across regions, and the full benefits of high-quality programs will remain out of reach.

Children are our most precious resource, and we should help them achieve their full potential. Investing in high-quality preschool for every child will pay large dividends for our entire nation, keeping America productive and competitive in the global economy.


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