Policy | News

Bills Propose State, Federal Partnership To Expand Preschool for Low-Income Families

Legislators in the United States Senate and House of Representatives have introduced bills designed to expand preschool access to low-income families.

Introduced by Tom Harkin in the Senate and George Miller and Richard Hanna in the House, both bills are called the Strong Start for America's Children Act and propose a 10-year initiative that would create a state and federal government partnership to fund preschool for children whose families earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Under the proposed legislation, the federal government would provide funding to individual states based on the number of eligible children. States would be required to provide matching funds — 10 percent in the first year and rising each following year until they reach the 100 percent cap in the eighth year — and to help administer the program by providing "sub-grants to high-quality, local providers, including school districts and community-based providers, such as child care and Head Start programs," according to information released by the House.

"Learning begins at birth, and the preparation for learning begins before birth. The investment we make as a nation in early learning will pay dividends for generations to come," Harkin said in a prepared statement. "Decades of research tell us that from infants and toddlers to preschoolers, early learning is the best investment we can make to prepare our children for a lifetime of success. Today, 39 states and the District of Columbia offer state-funded early learning programs, but without stronger investments, millions of children will continue to go without access to these crucial programs. No child should be denied this opportunity because of family income or where they live."

In order to be eligible, states will need to establish (or have established) early-learning standards in line with their K-12 standards that, according to information released by the Senate, "address all domains of school readiness," such as physical well-being and early math and scientific development. States will also be required to have or develop the ability to link its preschool data to its K-12 system, establish a state early childhood education and care council and provide state-funded kindergarten.

Requirements for pre-K programs to be considered "high quality" and thus eligible for funding include:

  • High staff qualifications, including bachelor's degrees for teachers;
  • Evidence-based health and safety standards;
  • Full day programs must be offered;
  • Salaries comparable with those earned by K-12 teachers must be offered;
  • Professional development for staff must be provided; and
  • The program must be evaluated on an ongoing basis.

"When we invest in early childhood education, we're investing in our nation's future," said Representative Elizabeth Warren, a cosponsor of the House bill, in a prepared statement. "Early childhood education helps children grow and learn from the very beginning, and helps make sure all our kids have a fair shot to succeed in school.  This legislation will support efforts in Massachusetts and across the country to strengthen early education programs and increase families' access to early learning opportunities."

More information about the House bill is available at help.senate.gov. Go to democrats.edworkforce.house.gov to learn more about the Senate's version of the proposed legislation.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is the multimedia editor for Campus Technology and THE Journal. He can be reached at jbolkan@1105media.com.

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