Congressman Phil Hare, a member of the House Education and Labor Committee and co-chair of the House Rural Education Caucus, today introduced legislation along with Congressman Denny Rehberg, Congresswoman Mazie Hirono, and Congressman Dave Loebsack to improve access to early childhood education in rural communities.
"For too long, access to preschool and other early childhood education programs have been few and far between for America's rural students," Hare said. "My legislation would give states and local school districts the tools they need to help rural students get a head start."
"The benefits of a preschool education are well documented, but the fact that rural kids do not have access to preschool programs has gone unaddressed in Washington, D.C.," said Congressman Rehberg (R-MT), a member of the House Rural Education Caucus. "Education provides the foundation for the economic and civic future of our nation, and we can't afford to leave millions of children who don't live in urban or suburban population centers behind. I'm honored to work across party lines with Congressman Hare to provide solutions to the challenges facing rural families."
"As a former educator, I know the benefit of empowering our young students and giving them the tools the need to succeed early on," said Congressman Loebsack. "Our students in rural districts face obstacles different from those in other areas, and by giving them better access we give them a better education."
The Rural Early Education Access Act will ensure that children living in rural communities start school ready to succeed. Specifically, the bill provides grants to states to establish programs to improve access to early childhood education in rural areas. States would then award subgrants to local schools and community-based providers based on a formula system.
"Every study shows that children who attend preschool programs are more likely to achieve success in school," Hare said. "This leads to additional college graduates and a more competitive workforce. In other words, it is not only good education policy, it makes economic sense."
Pre-K Now, a campaign of the Pew Center on the States, issued a report last year supportive of Hare's approach. "The need for federal support for early education has become especially urgent in rural areas where school readiness lags behind and special education-placement rates exceed those in urban and suburban areas," Pre-K Now wrote in the white paper Meeting the Challenge of Rural Pre-K. "Reducing the need for special education in rural communities serves the dual purpose of improving student achievement and alleviating a significant cost to rural school budgets."
"Increasing access to high-quality pre-K programs is a key to eliminating the achievement gaps that exists long before children ever step foot in the classroom," said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. "The Rural Early Education Access Act will help families overcome obstacles to accessing early education services in rural America. This measure is an important step toward educating the total child and ensuring that each child begins school prepared to learn."
A 2007 National Center of Education Statistics report on rural education found that children living in rural areas maintain the lowest level of enrollment in preschool programs. Additionally, rural communities face significant obstacles in providing access to the high-quality pre-kindergarten programs, including limited financial resources, scarcity of qualified teachers, deficient training and professional development opportunities, inadequate facilities and lack of transportation options.
"We must strive to give our children the best possible education, no matter where they happen to live," Hare concluded. "This bill seeks to do that."