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Letter to the Senate HELP Committee on early childhood bill

May 13, 2014

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association and the students they serve, we would like to express our strong support for the Strong Start for America’s Children Act (S. 1697), scheduled for markup tomorrow. This vitally important legislation would establish a new federal-state partnership to accelerate progress already underway and help states fund high-quality prekindergarten for four-year olds from low-income families; encourage states to support prekindergarten for four-year-olds from moderate-income families; and encourage learning opportunities for even younger children—for example, through partnerships with Early Head Start programs. 

The first five years of a child’s life—when the brain is still forming—are a window of opportunity. During those crucial years, 26 percent of our children are living in poverty (Source: U.S. Census Bureau) and 54 percent of our three- and four-year olds are NOT enrolled in preschool (Source: Annie E. Casey Foundation, Kids Count Data Center).  Longitudinal studies show that high-quality prekindergarten programs confer lasting benefits—in school and in life:      

  • The HighScope Perry Preschool Study found that individuals who were enrolled in quality preschool programs ultimately earned up to $2,000 more per month than those who were not, and that young people who were in preschool programs were more likely to graduate from high school and own homes.
  •  The Abecedarian Project found that children in quality preschool programs are less likely to repeat grades, need special education, or get in trouble with the law later on.

High-quality prekindergarten programs also bring enormous economic benefits. They can pay for themselves in as little as a year and, over decades, save the states and the federal government billions of dollars. The eventual benefit-to-cost ratio can be as high as 8-to-1. (Source: Economic Policy Institute)

Yet the promise of equal opportunity that is every American’s birthright remains unfulfilled. While existing programs are doing good work and meeting important needs, the demand for the services they offer far exceeds the supply—for example, Head Start reaches only about two-fifths of eligible preschool-age children, and Early Head Start reaches less than 4 percent of eligible infants and toddlers. (Source: National Women’s Law Center)

Ideally, prekindergarten would be publicly funded and universally available, just like our public system of K-12 education. While we recognize the need for a mixture of public and private funding for prekindergarten, we also believe that federal dollars used by private providers must be subject to certain protections as other federal laws provide. For example, the Child Care Development and Block Grant (CCDBG) program specifically states that funds shall not be expended “for any sectarian purpose or activity, including sectarian worship or instruction.”

Investing in our youngest children is investing in America’s future. High-quality prekindergarten programs play a critical role in putting our children on the path to success. Every child should have access to high-quality prekindergarten programs, not just those from families that can afford to pay for them.

We urge you to support the Strong Start for America’s Children Act and look forward to working with the Committee going forward.

Sincerely,

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations