“In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children…studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own. We know this works. So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.”
President Barack Obama, State of the Union, February 12, 2013
The beginning years of a child’s life are critical for building the early foundation needed for success later in school and in life. Leading economists agree that high-quality early learning programs can help level the playing field for children from lower-income families on vocabulary, social and emotional development, while helping students to stay on track and stay engaged in the early elementary grades. Children who attend these programs are more likely to do well in school, find good jobs, and succeed in their careers than those who don’t.
Despite the benefits of early education, our nation has lagged in making sure high-quality programs are available for our youngest kids. While 39 states and the District of Columbia offer state funded pre-school, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that the United States ranks 28th out of 38 countries for the share of four-year olds enrolled in early childhood education. And just 3 in 10 four-year-olds are enrolled in high-quality programs that prepare kids with the skills they need for kindergarten.
In particular, studies show that children from low-income families are less likely to have access to high-quality early education, and less likely to enter school prepared for success. By third grade, children from low-income families who are not reading at grade level are six times less likely to graduate from high school than students who are proficient. And the high costs of private preschool and lack of public programs also narrow options for middle-class families.
That’s why, in his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to expand access to high-quality pre-school to every child in America.
The President is proposing a new federal-state partnership to provide all low- and moderate-income four-year old children with high-quality preschool. His proposal will also expand access to high-quality preschool for children from middle class families and incentivizing full-day kindergarten policies.
Under his proposal, the U.S. Department of Education would allocate dollars to states based their share of four-year olds from low- and moderate-income families (those at or below 200% of the poverty line) and funds would be distributed to local school districts and other partner providers to implement the program. In order to access federal funding, however states would be required to meet quality benchmarks that are linked to better outcomes for children, include:
Funds under this program may also be used to expand full-day kindergarten once states have provided preschool education to their low- and moderate-income students.
The President’s proposal will also help expand the availability of Early Head Start, which provides early learning opportunities before kids begin preschool, as well as voluntary home visiting programs. Home visiting programs enable nurses, social workers, and other professionals to connect families to services and educational support that will improve a child’s health, development, and ability to learn.