U.S. Rep. Tom Cole: Early childhood education crucial to building America’s future

Childhood is a precious gift. It’s a time of constant growth, and every child’s potential is limitless. Unfortunately, there are many children in underserved communities across the country, where they face an increased risk of that potential being cut short by limited opportunities. Early childhood education is essential for success later in life, and every state needs solid resources to reinforce the benefits of schooling. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Save the Children Action Network’s President Mark Shriver and was reminded of just how important the collaboration between public, private, federal and local entities is when advocating for our most vulnerable youth.

I know that Oklahoma values education strongly, and is constantly working hard to better its pre-K and elementary programs. In fact, according to the National Head Start Association, Oklahoma is one of the leaders in pre-K enrollment in the country. Oklahoma has seen the results of making early childhood education a priority. Children are excelling at rapid rates in their earliest stages, and are more prepared for the rigors of each level of schooling. It’s a statistic we’re proud of, and is the result of collective work across all levels of government, as well as the diligent efforts of private organizations.

People are quick to see the negative in Congress every day, and hardly realize there is bipartisanship in our work. Rest assured, Congress takes education very seriously. One of the most bipartisan issues quite frankly is education — especially education at the earliest stages. We passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, in a bipartisan manner, to improve and maintain education standards, including early education. There’s never a disagreement or misunderstanding that our nation’s underserved children need all the resources they can get, and that they should have access to a quality and effective education. That’s an issue I think everyone can agree on.

Opportunity begins in the classroom. By enrolling at-risk children into school at a younger age, where they will have access to programs that fit their needs, we can help the next generation break free of the cycle of poverty and open doors to a brighter future. When we provide a child with a strong environment to develop academically and intellectually, he or she will most likely succeed later in life. Education will provide them the tools, confidence and foundation to guide them through life.

As chairman of the Labor, Health, and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, I have been able to see what Congress’ efforts can do to improve the structure of our education system and change the lives of millions of children. Throughout the process of creating this bill, I have been able to meet with hundreds of constituents from Oklahoma, and many national groups across the country, to hear their stories and how enhanced education has changed countless lives. For fiscal year 2017, we allotted more than $141.6 million in an increase for Head Start, and included $250 million for the new Preschool Development Grants programs. Programs like these are crucial for early child development, and serve an important role in schools across the nation. It is a top priority for Congress to ensure that our educational programs are fully funded, if not more, for our schools, and to reinforce their effectiveness.

As the voice of the American people, we are working hard to defend the rights of our children, and to make sure they are given the opportunity to learn. We know that every dollar we invest into early education will be money spent well, and that every program will continue to be top-quality and efficient. America is a leading power in this world in many ways — and we will continue to fight so that our students are the leaders in this world as well. When we improve the lives of children, we improve the lives of families, and in turn, we create a solid foundation for America’s future.

Cole, R-Moore, represents Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District. He is seeking election in November to his eighth term in the U.S. House.