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Mark Shriver

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President Obama Delivers For America's Youngest

Posted: 05/27/11 03:48 PM ET

The seemingly permanent budget wars have been churning along all spring, with Republicans pulling and Democrats pushing, and with what seems like not enough getting done for the American people. However, just before official Washington raced home for the Memorial Day weekend, something really fabulous got done for America's youngest.

After more than two years of fighting to deliver vital new funding for early child education, President Obama came through with a new $500 million grant program for early childhood education that will help America's most vulnerable toddlers get a fair chance at a lifetime of quality education.

Announced by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at the end of May, the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge will distribute desperately needed dollars to the most innovative and effective early learning education programs in the states.

This new funding isn't just an investment in our kids, but the competitive design of the program will ensure that only the best and most effective early learning programs get funded.

This investment comes at a critical time because children from America's poorest families are more likely to be unprepared for school when they first walk through the kindergarten door. Indeed, only three out of five kids are enrolled in some kind of preschool program. And it's the one in five toddlers living in poverty who are least likely to get the early learning that they need.

Research has shown that at age 4, children living below the poverty line are 18 months below the developmental norm for their age. This is especially true for young children living in remote, rural communities where geographic isolation, lack of education services, and a sparse workforce has, for generations, prevented quality early learning services to develop.

Save the Children's U.S. Programs fought hard to support President's Obama's early childhood funding on Capitol Hill. These funds will help support our proven and effective early childhood education programs.

Even as we continue to experience the effects of the worst recession since the Great Depression, President Obama's early learning funding is an important acknowledgment that a strong education -- and, thus, economic -- foundation does not begin at Kindergarten. It begins at birth.

Investing at a young age will improve the chances for more children to attend college, and it could add hundreds of billions to our Domestic Gross Product within a generation.

Thanks to President Obama and Congressional supporters from both sides of the aisle, we just built the first block of a new foundation for America's future. What a great accomplishment to celebrate this holiday weekend.