03/05/2013 03:51 pm ET Updated May 05, 2013

Will We Take a Bold Stand for Our Youngest Citizens?

I applaud President Barack Obama on his strong and forceful commitment to early education during his State of the Union Address. Thousands of early childhood practitioners and professionals across the country are gratified that the President is putting the weight of his office behind this important issue with his words: "Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on - by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime." Given this strong stance on the importance of early childhood education, I believe there will be a lot to celebrate in 2013.

125 years ago, Lucy Wheelock founded the kindergarten movement and Wheelock College, on the belief that all children need access to excellent, high-quality early education: "The goal...[was] nothing less than the redemption of the world through the better education of those who are to shape it and make it (Lucy Wheelock, 1914). She left a legacy of inspired action and a mission that has not wavered in more than a century: to improve the lives of children and families. Generations of Wheelock College graduates have kept the promise of that mission. Armed with brain development research, which shows the value of the early years in a child's development, advocates have long waited for early education to become not just a priority but an entitlement for all children.

Yet, today, thousands of preschool aged children are placed on a waitlist waiting for space to open in an early learning program while the most important developmental milestones of their lives pass them by. Young children fall behind even before taking a step into the door of a kindergarten classroom. All families struggle to balance work and family responsibilities in today's fast paced environment but the cost of early childhood education is prohibitive for most. Working parents struggle piecing together their children's preschool experiences. Affordability remains the biggest barrier to access. I firmly believe that "luck" should not determine lifelong outcomes. Today words must be followed by appropriate funding and policies that allow families to properly support their young children.

While serving as co-leader of Massachusetts Governor Patrick's Readiness Project that created a 10-year education strategy for Massachusetts, I saw evidence for why quality early childhood is one of the few social policy interventions that have proven to really work -both in terms of long-term learning, development outcomes, and economic benefits to society. In fact, early childhood education saves in future social costs, yielding an estimated return of 16%. Imagine the impact on society results if all children had access to early education. The first three years of life are the prime of human development. Over 90 percent of the brain is constructed and the road map for future social, emotional and physical development takes form through interactive relationships. Universal early education-from the most vulnerable to the most privileged, and all who fall in between-must become a societal imperative.

Recognizing the dividends reaped from investing in children early, Massachusetts is boldly proposing funding for several new early education initiatives. Governor Patrick advocates for increasing early education funding by $131 million in FY14, and $350 million over the next four years. The most significant part of his proposal is the creation of universal access to early education in the Commonwealth by FY17. Additionally, he proposes reforms to Chapter 70 school funding, a formula that determines how aid is allocated to school districts, which would encourage more school districts to create early education programs. The funding would be divided to maximize several early education initiatives, such as investments to attract, train and retain early education professionals; and implementation of quality improvement efforts. The City of Boston is also putting a significant push behind making quality child care easier to find with the announcement of a $1 million Capital Resources for Educators fund offering low interest loans for safe, quality environments for the city's children.

These proposals are definitely a step in the right direction for young children, families and educators. I encourage elected officials to join President Obama, in calling for high quality early childhood education for all children. I call on advocates to join forces to support this renewed interest in young children and join educators and parents so that together we can demand the funding necessary for such a promise. Let's put our words into action and fully fund quality early learning spaces for all children.