Investing in Early Education is Critical to Boosting Children's Success and U.S. Economic Competitiveness, Experts Tell House Education Committee
Providing all children with high quality early childhood care and education opportunities is critical to improving children's success in school and building a stronger future for the U.S. economy, witnesses told the House Education and Labor Committee at a hearing today.
"There is simply no question that the first five years of life provide us with an incredible opportunity to ensure that all children have the tools they need to achieve in elementary school and beyond," said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the chairman of the committee. "If we are serious about reforming our education system and ensuring success for all children, and if we are serious about maintaining our leadership in today's global economy, we must focus on investing in our children during their most formative years."
"Expert witnesses, including Elisabeth Chun from Hawaii, today provided convincing testimony about the importance of high quality early education programs to help our children succeed in school and in life," said U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), who chaired today's hearing. "I have introduced legislation, particularly the PRE-K Act - a federal-state partnership - and the Early Educator Loan Forgiveness Act, to achieve these goals."
Witnesses said that the latest science and research confirms that what children learn and experience during their earliest years of life greatly affects their brain, social, and academic development.
Deborah A. Phillips, Ph.D., a Professor of Psychology and Public Policy at Georgetown University, and the Co-Director of the Center for Research on Children in the U.S., explained how a child's early care experiences during these first years of brain development can bear significant implications for their success later on: "What is very new and relevant to today's hearing is that child care experiences, especially during the toddler years, appear to affect this developing system. One of the most significant insights about educational attainment in recent years is that educational outcomes in adolescence and young adulthood can be traced back to capabilities seen during the preschool years and experiences in and out of the home that foster development."
The witnesses also agreed that exposure to quality early care and education experiences is especially important for low-income children, who often face greater risk of academic and behavioral challenges than children from higher-income families.
"It is evident that by age six, there are large and preventable gaps between the development and academic abilities of high- and low-income children. Research has shown that high quality early childhood education programs make a difference in educational, social, emotional, and physical outcomes, especially for high-risk, low-income children," said Elisabeth Chun, the Executive Director of the Hawaii Good Beginnings Alliance. Chun also discussed Hawaii's efforts to improve the quality of state early childhood education programs, in part by working to attract well-qualified early childhood teachers.
Kathleen Dunn Pristley, Supervisor of Early Childhood Education for public schools in Orange, New Jersey, discussed how increasing access to quality preschool programs in her school district led to academic gains by elementary school students. "This improvement in test scores corresponds to improvements in access and quality of preschool education for our children. These test scores are comparable to districts throughout my state, many serving more advantaged families and some right in our neighboring communities."
The witnesses urged Congress to further invest in early education by working with states to expand access to early programs, enhance program quality, and provide additional support for early childhood educators.
"Economically, the long-term impacts of high-quality early learning programs translate into significant public and private benefits, with returns far exceeding the costs," said Charles E.M. Kolb, the President of the Committee for Economic Development, who highlighted the economic benefits of investing in early education. "Federal, state, and local budgets will improve significantly when governments can dedicate more resources to productive endeavors, rather than to remediation, incarceration, and welfare. For every preschool dollar spent, states are projected to recoup 50 to 85 cents in reduced crime costs and 36 to 77 cents in school savings."
Hirono has introduced legislation, the Providing Resources Early for Kids Act of 2007, to encourage states to strengthen their preschool programs.
Last year, the Democratic Congress enacted legislation to improve and reauthorize the Head Start early childhood development and education program.
The Congress also enacted legislation last fall, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, that will provide loan forgiveness to early childhood educators after 10 years of service and loan repayments.