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Public Statements

The Introduction of the Universal Prekindergarten and Early Childhood Education Act of 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Ms. NORTON. Mr. Speaker, today, I am reintroducing a bill similar to a bill I have introduced since the 109th Congress, the Universal Prekindergarten and Early Childhood Education Act of 2013 (Universal Pre-K), to begin the process of providing universal public prekindergarten education in public and public charter schools. Although I have consistently introduced a bill in the past, this year it is particularly ripe in light of President Obama's call for early education for all children in his recent State of the Union speech. My bill is meant to fill a hole in the ``No Child Left Behind Act,'' which addresses elementary and secondary education but ignores the prekindergarten years, perhaps the most critical years for children's brain development. The President's proposal has not been committed to legislation yet, but his cost-sharing model is similar to my bill. My bill seeks a breakthrough in public elementary school education by providing the initial funding for states to encourage local school districts to add prekindergarten for children four years of age, as kindergarten programs were for five-year-olds that are now routinely available in public schools. The bill would eliminate some of the major shortcomings of unevenly available commercial daycare and, importantly, would ensure access to qualified teachers and the safe facilities of public schools. Unless early education becomes a necessary part of a child's education, I believe that it will continue to be unavailable to the majority of families with children.

My bill provides federal funds to states, which must be matched by at least 20 percent of state funds, to create universal, voluntary prekindergarten in public and public charter schools for four-year-olds, regardless of income. The classes, which would be full-day and run throughout the entire school year, must be taught by teachers who possess equivalent or similar qualifications to those in other grades in the school. The funds would supplement, not supplant, other federal funds for early childhood education. The unique aspect of my bill is that it uses the existing public school infrastructure and trained teachers to make early childhood education available to all.

The success of Head Start and other prekindergarten programs, combined with new scientific evidence concerning the importance of brain development in early childhood, virtually mandate the expansion of early childhood education to all children today. However, early learning programs have been available only to the affluent, who can afford them, and to low-income families in programs such as Head Start, which would be unaffected by my bill. My bill provides a practical way to gradually move to universal public preschool education. The goal of the bill is to afford the great majority of the American working poor, lower-middle-class, and middle-class families, most of whom have been left out, the benefits of early childhood education.

We cannot afford to continue to allow the most fertile years for childhood development to pass, only to later wonder why we cannot teach Johnny to read. The bill responds both to the great needs of parents who seek early childhood education, as well as today's brain science, which shows that a child's brain development begins much earlier than previously understood. However, many parents are unable to afford the stimulating education necessary to ensure optimal brain development.

Considering the staggering cost of daycare, the inaccessibility of early childhood education, and the opportunity that early education offers to improve a child's chances of success, schooling for four-year-olds is overdue. The absence of viable options for working families demands our immediate attention.

My bill reflects what jurisdictions increasingly are trying to accomplish. The District of Columbia, for example, has achieved an extensive integration of early childhood education as part of a larger effort to improve the D.C. public schools. A recent report highlighted the economic benefits of early childhood education, emphasizing its role in expanding job opportunities and in decreasing the amount of money spent on programs to address teen pregnancy, crime, and the like.

I strongly urge my colleagues to support the legislation.


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