06/06/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Three Year Olds Don't Even Have Bootstraps to Pull On!

Imagine if the Department of Health and Human Services announced it wouldn't monitor or control the Swine Flu until millions of people were ill. Or if the Department of Homeland Security refused to track Al Qaeda until it launched multiple attacks inside the United States.

Needless to say, there'd be outrage.

Unfortunately, when it comes to another dangerous threat -- a failing education system -- we have a similarly unimaginable but very real public policy nightmare.

Scientists tell us 90 percent of our brain's growth occurs from birth through age six, making that period a crucial determiner for future success in school and in life. But here's the catch: the bulk of our public investment in education doesn't begin until age six!

That means it falls entirely on parents of infants and toddlers to read their children books every day, listen to music together, play learning games and ensure they are engaged at every level of social, emotional and cognitive development.

We're both parents of very young children and have the resources to enrich our children's lives with these kinds of activities. But many poor families in this country don't even have minimal resources for their children's education. That in part is why two of three fourth graders in America aren't reading at grade level.

Earlier this month, Jennifer joined Save the Children's U.S. Program as our newest ambassador and advocate for early childhood education.

Our work began with an April 2nd visit to Save the Children's in-home and reading exchange programs in California's Central Valley, one of the poorest rural areas in the nation. Jennifer met and played with 12-month- old-Xavier, read "Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?" to a group of toddlers, spoke with parents, worked alongside Save the Children experts and toured the local area.

Yesterday, we released Save the Children's 2009 State of the World's Mothers Report at a local D.C. child care center. Among other startling findings, the report reveals that America ranks 18th out of 25 other developed nations on early childhood education.

With a supportive new president and a strong yearning for renewal across America, now is the time to invest in the next generation and early education is the key to doing it.

Today, one in six children lives in poverty in America. In rural America, including Jennifer's native West Virginia, that number is one in five. To help begin reverse this situation, we are calling for an increase of $2 billion for early childhood education on top of President Obama's $4 billion investment in the stimulus bill. In fact, yesterday afternoon, we met with more than a dozen Congresspeople and Senators who hold the keys to this funding need. We were very heartened by the support we received.

We can have a debate in this country about the role of government in helping poor families. But when it comes to the youngest Americans, there's one thing that's clear: three year olds don't even have bootstraps to pull on.