The first years of a child’s life are crucial. Here’s how we can help them.

Two children in Colorado enjoy a book from their “reading corner”. 

As summer draws to an end, kids all over the country are starting their first day of kindergarten. Unfortunately, not all of them will be ready for this huge milestone. More than 14 million children are living in poverty in the U.S., and half of them are not prepared for school by the age of 5.

Too often, early childhood education, like preschool and quality child care, is out of reach for American families. Two out of five children in America do not have access to early learning programs. These early years are crucial as the majority of brain development occurs during the first five years of life. During this period, a child learns critical skills they will need to succeed in school and beyond. When a child lacks access to early learning, they will start kindergarten at a significant disadvantage. As a result, they will likely struggle to catch up to their peers throughout their academic and working careers.

In an era of partisan division, thankfully, early learning is an area where Congress has come together. In 2015, the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) established the Preschool Development Grant (PDG). This competitive federal grant was designed to create new preschool programs or improve states’ existing preschool programs with a focus on maximizing parental choice, improving the transition to elementary school and enhancing the overall quality for early learning programs. 18 states received this initial funding.

In December 2018, the federal government allocated a new round of grant funding to 46 states and territories around the country, including Colorado, New Mexico and Washington. I oversee SCAN’s work in these three states. It has been amazing to see how this federal grant has led to robust early learning development over the last few months.

At the State Level

During the recent legislative session, the Save the Children Action Network (SCAN) community in New Mexico advocated for the creation of the Department of Early Childhood Education and Care. In the state that ranks 49th in child well-being, this new department helps ensure that more young children receive the education they deserve.  The state of New Mexico is using PDG funding to develop a strategic plan to serve more children ages birth through age five.

In Washington state, during the last legislative session, SCAN’s top legislative priority was the creation of an Early ECEAP pilot program, which is the state-equivalent to Early Head Start. With funding from the PDG, the Early ECEAP pilot will provide comprehensive early learning and family support services for at-risk infant and toddlers through a center-based program.

Similarly, the Colorado SCAN community is now gearing up to work on legislation to expand access to preschool, which is a top priority for Governor Polis. Meanwhile, the state is using the PDG grant to assess how to improve access to high-quality early care and learning programs. The Colorado Office of Early Childhood is also planning an expansion of state-funded preschool because of the federal grant.

Over to Washington, D.C.

When it comes to the federal budget, every representative and senator has several competing priorities. In order to make an issue a top priority, they often have to hear from their constituents.  Funding for the Preschool Development Grant is contingent on the annual Congressional appropriations process. The good news is that the House of Representatives decided to funded PDG at $350 million (a $100 million increase from last year). Now it is up to the Senate.

Join me an urge your senators to make early learning a top priority in the 2020 fiscal year budget! Ask them to invest in our children’s future by supporting programs like the Preschool Development Grant.

Urge your senators to protect funding for early learning programs!