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Ms. HIRONO. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Providing Resources Early for Kids Act of 2013--the PRE-K Act.
Research shows that quality early education is foundational for success in school and in life.
The PRE-K Act will help more children enter school ready to succeed. It creates a new federal-state partnership to provide better preschool opportunities for our country's children. High quality preschool makes the biggest difference, so this bill focuses on quality.
The PRE-K Act would provide Federal grants to States to strengthen quality. States could use the funding to increase the number of highly trained early educators in preschool classrooms.
The bill would improve the student-to-teacher ratios in preschools; provide vital comprehensive services such as health screenings and nutritional assistance.
The bill would increase the hours per day and weeks per year families have access to high quality early education programs; and improve programs for our youngest children, from birth to three years old.
States would need to coordinate with existing Head Start providers and their State Advisory Councils.
The PRE-K Act recognizes that not all states have a high-quality state preschool program in place yet. This bill meets states where they are. States that already have a high-quality program could apply as ``Qualified States'' and get money improve quality and expand to serve more children. Other States, like Hawaii, could apply as ``Selected States,'' earning Federal grants to establish a high-quality preschool program within two years.
In Hawaii, Governor Abercrombie is leading the fight to build a State preschool program for low-income families. The PRE-K Act could support Hawaii's efforts through Federal partnership grants.
Decades of research show that high quality early education programs can help kids enter kindergarten ready to learn and avoid falling behind. Later in life, kids who have high-quality preschool are more likely to avoid crime or teen pregnancy, graduate high school and college, earn more income, pay taxes, and need fewer public services.
The studies have found that investing $1 in quality early learning can bring a return on investment of between $2 and $17 down the line. A University of Hawaii/Good Beginnings Alliance study of a theoretical Hawaii program found we'd get $4.20 for every $1 invested. In this tight fiscal environment, wise Federal spending is key. High quality early learning is one of the best investments we can make.
That is why business and financial leaders, from the Hawaii Business Roundtable to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, agree that quality early education is critically important in providing the tools children need for success in school and in adulthood.
Law enforcement officials know that quality early learning helps prevent kids from falling behind, dropping out of high school, or getting involved in crime. High-ranking military leaders have also stressed the importance of quality early education as a national security issue. Today 75 percent of Americans age 17 to 24 are ineligible for military service due to poor education, physical un-fitness, or involvement with crime. Quality early learning helps kids get on the right path--before they fall behind.
Parents know the high cost of child care is difficult to afford. If parents can't find child care, they can't go to work. Parents also want more than just supervision for their children. They want to know their children are being engaged by effective teachers who are preparing them academically, socially, and emotionally for success in school.
Teachers and school administrators know firsthand that their students who come to kindergarten with quality preschool are more likely to succeed. Special education professionals and advocates for students with disabilities know that quality early learning can identify disabilities early and bring intervention to get kids on track with their peers.
Education is the great equalizer, and starting children on an early path to success is critical. I have been working to strengthen quality early education for over a decade. As Lieutenant Governor, I helped establish Hawaii's Pre-Plus program, which constructed preschool classrooms for use by nonprofit, private, or public preschools. In the U.S. House of Representatives, I first introduced the PRE-K Act in 2007. The bill passed through the House Education and Labor Committee with a bipartisan vote. President Obama has made quality early learning a key part of his education platform. I helped lead a coalition of over 100 bipartisan House members to enact and fund President Obama's Early Learning Challenge. We also fought for increases in Head Start and Child Care subsidies to serve more children and families.
In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama called for new Federal support for high-quality state preschool. This is the first time in a generation that a president has used the State of the Union address to call for expanding preschool access. The PRE-K Act answers this call.
The time is right. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate to move this forward.
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