09/18/2013 01:08 pm ET Updated Nov 18, 2013

Early Education: Playing to Win

Several U.S. Senators and Representatives joined a group of children and their parents on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol today to participate in an eye-catching event: playing a spirited game of Chutes and Ladders on a jumbo-sized game board stretched out on the grass. How often do you see politicians elbow to elbow with kids competing in a game? The ladders represent the progress children will gain if we invest in early education and the chutes suggest the missed opportunity for children and families -- and backsliding for our country -- if we fail to move forward on expanding early education.

Unfortunately, millions of children and families don't have the chance to benefit from positive early care and education opportunities. Many families lack high-quality options in their communities, or are unable to afford the options that are available. But there's good news: the President has proposed a significant new investment to expand access to high-quality child care and early education. This initiative, along with ending the sequestration that is causing 57,000 children to lose out on Head Start, will provide a strong start for all children.

A month ago, the National Women's Law Center and members of the Strong Start Campaign for Children asked parents, teachers and others across the country to share personal stories of how early education had affected the children in their lives. Looking through the hundreds of stories we received, I'm moved by parents who watch their children leap ahead in their learning at preschool programs, by mothers who are finally able to hold down a job because they secured child care and by kindergarten and elementary school teachers who are excited to see students enter their classes brimming with energy and ready to succeed.

A teacher in Wisconsin describes an autistic child who began the year hiding under his desk and by the end of the year, amazed everyone by playing with friends. A mother in Florida recalls her daughter's transformation from a shy child who rarely said a word to becoming the lead singer at her preschool graduation. A teacher in Colorado remembers how her Early Head Start program identified hearing loss in an infant and worked with the family to find a surgeon who performed a procedure that improved the child's hearing. A director of a New Jersey preschool writes that many of her children do not know how to hold a book and have limited language skills at the start of the year. But by the end of the year, they are going to the lending library with their families and telling their friends about the metamorphosis of butterflies. A mother in Pennsylvania proudly reports that her son who graduated from Head Start 13 years ago is now serving in the U.S. Air Force.

By expanding access to high-quality early education, many more children will have a greater chance to excel and become productive adults. Meeting this challenge will be a win for them, their families and the nation. Let's do it!