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Pre-School for All: The Time Has Come

Posted: 06/16/11 02:55 PM ET

The conversation about education reform in America often takes place in the realm of 4th-grade reading aptitude, middle school math and science achievement and SAT scores. Last week, on Capitol Hill, we expanded the conversation to the place where all of a child's potential hinges: the first five years.

The science on early childhood education is unequivocal. If the United States were to make a deep investment in this overlooked part of the education spectrum, we'd diminish many social ills, including juvenile crime and teenage pregnancy; we'd increase high school graduation rates and family incomes; and, according to the Brookings Institute, we'd add $2 trillion to the gross domestic product within a generation.

Science also says that early education is crucial not because toddlers are necessarily learning to read and write, but because they acquire vital skills that set them up for learning to read and write. The fundamental experience of being taught to sit still, work with other kids and develop strong and positive relationships with adults sets kids on the path for their K-12 education.

Still, our nation's leaders and our national policy are, once again, lagging far behind science.

Only 60 percent of toddlers are enrolled in some kind of pre-school, including Head Start, Early Head Start, a private pre-school or proven programs like the ones Save the Children's U.S. Programs runs across 14 states.

That means two out of five kids in America walk into kindergarten not fully prepared for school. They're already behind. And so is America. This year, America will graduate a small fraction of the number of engineers -- a key to our economic future -- than China and India will.

In Hollywood, it's all about the story: the beginning, the middle and the end.

Here's the early education story so far:

  • We're not preparing our kids for school.
  • Our kids are falling behind.
  • Now America is falling behind.

So it's not a very happy story so far. But there's hope.

Last month, President Obama delivered on $500 million for innovative early learning programs, which both of us, alongside our partners at organizations like the First Five Years Fund and First Focus, have been fighting to secure.

It's a fabulous accomplishment, but it's only a down payment. It's still not enough to ensure that every toddler is prepared for a lifetime of success.

That's why we were thrilled to join Senators Robert Casey and Barbara Mikulski last week to launch a new effort to ensure that every toddler in America gets access to a quality early childhood education.

They introduced legislation that would make universal pre-school a reality by increasing child care funding and providing grants to states so that every toddler in the United States gets at least one year of pre-school.

We know the first question about this initiative may be: Why now? The budget wars are as hot as ever, dollars are scarce and, most of all, the American people are anxious about the future.

Well, it's the future that this effort is all about.

Simply put, these bills are perhaps one of the best ways to make America an even stronger, competitive and more just nation.

To us, that is is one of the most effective and patriotic actions any of us can undertake and the time to make it happen is now.


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