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Deborah Kong Headshot

California Must Answer the President's Call by Leading on Early Learning

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As an advocate for young children, I was excited and encouraged when President Obama asserted his commitment to making high-quality early learning for all American children a top priority for the second time in a row during last night's State of the Union.

As a parent, I was thrilled that my two-year-old son Robby heard the leader of our country making such a powerful statement about the importance of early childhood education for young children like him.

We try to limit Robby's TV time, but last night we made an exception -- and I'm so glad we did.

As a parent, I've seen firsthand how critical the early years are in laying a foundation for children's future success, and how quickly babies, toddlers and preschoolers learn and develop. We are lucky to have the extraordinary support of a great early learning program that nurtures his growth and helps me be a better parent, advocate and tax-paying Californian. Many other families have not been so fortunate.

Last night President Obama issued a challenge to the states to continue to be leaders in early learning. He said,

"Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-k available to every four year-old. As a parent as well as a President, I repeat that request tonight.

"But in the meantime, thirty states have raised pre-K funding on their own. They know we can't wait. So just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year, we'll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children. And as Congress decides what it's going to do, I'm going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need."

Momentum for greater investment in early learning has never been stronger. A brand new NBC/Wall Street Journal national poll found that a stunning 85 percent of respondents said that early childhood education was an absolute priority.

I am hopeful that years from now we will look back on 2014 as an historic moment; that Robby will understand that it was an important turning point -- when, as a country and as a state we finally made early learning a top priority.

As home to one in eight children in America, California is poised to lead the nation with the introduction of a landmark bill that will expand and improve transitional kindergarten (TK) to serve all four-year-olds. Earlier this month, California Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg introduced theKindergarten Readiness Act of 2014, building on the momentum from California Assembly Democrats, who made early learning a centerpiece of their Budget Blueprint. Early Edge California is proud to co-sponsor this legislation.

With only a small fraction of California's earliest learners attending TK, 2014 is the time for California to make a wise investment -- extending TK to every child.

Recognizing that we must create a continuum of high-quality early learning that begins at birth, Early Edge California is also supporting a proposal that would transform our birth through age three system. This effort seeks to build on existing early learning and care programs to expand access to high-quality comprehensive services for California's most vulnerable infants and toddlers and their families.

For the second year in a row, the president has placed particular emphasis on early learning during the State of the Union -- and his spotlight on providing young children with the early education they deserve is historic.

In the weeks and months to come, we must work together to ensure that California answers the president's call by investing in the early years. As he said, "Research shows one of the best investments we can make in a child's life is high-quality early education."

We have a vision of a state that leads the way in providing young children with high-quality early learning in 2014. Californians should stand up for this wise investment in our future -- and preparing our kids for a lifetime of successful learning.