Two days after becoming the first U.S. President in history to call for preschool for every child in his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama rolled out an approach that aligns with what California's early childhood advocates have been calling for to ensure high quality early learning for our children.
First, the president's plan recognizes the need for real partnership between the federal government and the states, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. The President's proposal calls for a new federal-state cost sharing partnership to provide all low- and moderate-income four-year old children with high-quality preschool, and also expand these programs to serve more children from middle class families. The proposal is not a mandate to states; but an incentive to encourage expanded access, with funds distributed to local school districts and other partner providers.
Second, the president's plan wisely seeks to create a continuum of high-quality early learning beginning at birth. He calls for building on the promise of Early Head Start with competitive grants to expand high-quality child care services for children from birth to age 3. He also proposes increasing investments in evidence-based, voluntary home visiting programs for infants and toddlers. This effort would connect the families who most need support with nurses, social workers and other professional services that improve children's health, development and ability to learn.
Third, the president's plan focuses on quality. To access federal dollars, state programs must meet rigorous standards, hire highly qualified teachers and submit to assessment programs.
California should seize this tremendous opportunity for our infants, toddlers and preschoolers. To best position our state to leverage new federal dollars, we should:
- Begin restoring the more than 1 billion dollars in cuts to early education program since 2008, which resulted in more than 110,000 children losing out on preschool and childcare.
- Build and strengthen our programs for our most vulnerable infants and toddlers, starting with a bill currently before the legislature that calls for braiding California's general child care program with Early Head Start support services such as home visiting, developmental screenings, parental support, and other health services.
- Continue improving the quality of our early childhood programs through efforts funded by California's Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Grant.
In the weeks and months to come, California superintendents, educators, legislators and fellow advocates across the state must work together to ensure California is ready to answer the president's call to invest in the early years.