AFT urges passage of early childhood education legislation

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The AFT is urging Congress to act quickly on landmark bipartisan legislation that could deliver on a promise too long deferred—investments that will help put prekindergarten within the reach of every American family.

The Strong Start for America's Children Act, a bill introduced on Nov. 13 at a Capitol Hill event, builds on the vision of universal, voluntary prekindergarten that President Obama outlined in his 2013 State of the Union address. Both the Senate and the House introduced versions of the bill, which would authorize up to $1.3 billion in federal funding in the 2014 fiscal year, with greater amounts in future years.

Constance Mourning/AFT Photo

The funding would support prekindergarten for 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families (those living at or below 200 percent of the poverty line). Funds would be disbursed to states under a formula grant model similar to Title I, with support going to districts, schools, Head Start programs, licensed child care providers and other local entities offering high-quality, voluntary prekindergarten.

"Reclaiming the promise of public education must start early. That's exactly what this landmark bipartisan bill sets out to do," AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement. "As a nation, we can't rely on a patchwork of early learning programs that provide too little quality education to too few students. We know that early childhood education is one of the best investments we can make to prepare a child for success in school and life.

"It's a no-brainer: When we invest in early learning, we invest in our children, our economy and America's future."

Other goals of the bill: increasing the quality of infant and toddler care in center-based and family child care; supporting quality improvements in the Child Care and Development Block Grant; and spurring continued support for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program.

"Today, 39 states and the District of Columbia offer state-funded early learning programs, but without stronger investments, millions of children will continue to go without access to these crucial programs," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told those gathered at the Capitol for the introduction of the bill. One of those was Constance Mourning (shown above), who has taught prekindergarten and kindergarten at Anne Beers Elementary School in Washington, D.C., for the past two years.

The bill, Mourning says, opens up wonderful possibilities for the millions of children who otherwise would not participate in early learning, and for the professionals who teach at that level. "It's exciting for our profession: We're not being mislabeled as babysitters," she said. "And a law based on the bill and President Obama's vision is going to help so many children across the nation. As a teacher, I can tell immediately which children in my classroom have the social and learning advantages that come with good preschool."

The AFT is urging members to tell their U.S. representatives and senators to support the legislation. [Mike Rose, Jennifer Scully/AFT photo]

November 13, 2013