THE BLOG

For Mother's Day, Moms Need Quality Early Learning Opportunities

05/09/2015 11:50 am ET | Updated May 09, 2016

This Mother's Day, moms across California need more than flowers -- they need a state budget that increases the access, affordability and quality of child care and preschool.

As I see my son Robby learn and grow, I am so appreciative that he has the opportunity to attend a quality preschool. He can now write his name, recognize letters of the alphabet and count. Perhaps even more importantly, he has learned to manage his emotions, work with others and pay attention. These new skills have made him a confident, enthusiastic learner. For my son, and for me, early learning has been invaluable.

Every day, I'm able to go to work knowing that he is well cared for, happy and thriving. As president of Early Edge California, I get to advocate on behalf of other children and families and help set them on the path to college and career readiness. I am proud to do this work every day, and I am acutely aware that far too many mothers and children in California do not have the same opportunity that Robby and I have. Every mother, no matter her income, deserves to know that her child is learning in a quality, healthy, safe environment. High-quality early learning opportunities for children birth to age five not only provide them with the strong start in life they need for success, but empower mothers to pursue their education and career dreams, like I have been able to do.

I am encouraged by the recent early care and education is gaining momentum in the Legislature. AB 47 -- the Preschool for All Act of 2015, which would make good on the commitment made by Governor Brown and the Legislature to provide preschool for all low-income four year olds, passed the Assembly Education Committee with bipartisan support. Additionally, the Assembly Democrats released their top budget priorities, and included expanding access and affordability of quality child care and preschool. It's great to see leaders align policy with what parents have long known -- that children are learning at lightning speed at this age, and we need to foster their creativity and curiosity and provide them with a strong foundation for future success.

And the research backs this up. A strong research base shows that high-quality experiences in the early years of life, the most rapid period of brain development, have an unmatched benefit for children, families and the economy down the road. Early learning can change the trajectory of a child's life. A Council of Economic Advisors report recently found early learning is one of the best investments we can make, with every dollar invested saving more than $8 in social spending. Savings come in the form of decreased grade retention, special education placements, and crime, and increased high school graduations, college attendance and earnings.

Without quality early childhood programs, many children face an opportunity gap without the resources to overcome it. A recent Stanford University study found that by 24 months, toddlers from higher-income families were already six months ahead of their lower-income peers in language development. This early inequality of basic skills tends to persist throughout life, leading to social and economic inequalities that are much more difficult to address later in life.

Between 2008 and 2012, California cut its early learning and care system by $1 billion. While last year's budget made strides to reinvest and rebuild, there is still an overwhelming need for quality child care and preschool. Tens of thousands of vulnerable infants and toddlers are unserved. Additionally, the California Department of Education received requests for over 32,000 preschool spaces for just 4,000 available, and acknowledges the need is likely much greater.

This year, we have the potential to level the playing field for our low-income children and families. As California's budget surplus continues to soar, policymakers have a choice to make: Be penny wise and pound foolish, or spend prudently on early care and education and reap the benefits for years to come. Increased investments in early care and education will help tackle poverty, ensure more families can participate in our growing economy, and provide children with the early experiences they need to thrive.

So this year, let's do more for mothers and give them something that will last a lifetime--the gift of early care and education. I call on California's leaders to fully fund the state's promise of preschool for all low-income four-year-olds as well as increase access, affordability and quality of programs for children birth to age five.

I look forward to a future in California where all mothers have the opportunity to make their dreams a reality and know that their children are healthy, ready for school, and on track to reach their full potential. And I look forward to that future for Robby. On Sunday, I will celebrate Mother's Day with brunch with my family. On Monday and each day after, I look forward to returning to work to ensure every mother and child in California has a brighter future.

Deborah Kong is president of Early Edge California, an advocacy group working to ensure all children have the early experiences necessary to be successful learners by the end of 3rd grade, setting them on a path to college and career readiness.