Dear President Trump,
A young mother contacted me recently, asking if I could suggest a program that would help her kindergarten son with his letters and pronunciation. She lives in a poor, rural state, and there was no nearby preschool her son could attend.
I regularly hear from parents like her. Their kids can’t attend preschool because it is too expensive, or because child care and other early learning programs are not available, or there is a long waiting list. It is particularly difficult for working parents who are often forced to make hard choices.
One mom expressed her dilemma this way:
“Do I leave my job and lose my income because there is no good child care available? Or do I leave my child in what I am afraid is not a safe or a quality environment?”
In many cases, even if expense is not an issue, quality care is not available.
In my own family, my daughter discovered that her three-month-old baby was being left in her car seat all day at day care. She removed her child from that family day care home and missed several days of work before she could find a child care setting where she felt comfortable leaving her infant. She continued to worry about the baby when she was working, after having had such a bad experience the first time.
We all know that the best investment that we can make is in our children; they are our future. Early learning is a bipartisan issue that both Republicans and Democrats can get behind.
I hope that you, President Trump, and your daughter Ivanka will follow through on your promise to expand quality child care and early childhood learning programs in general.
I hope your new administration will recognize and support the need for early childhood services, beginning at birth. Research clearly shows that starting early produces the best results, and that brain development is the greatest during the first three years of life.
I hope that there will be a focus in your new administration on making affordable, quality child care for disadvantaged families a priority. Fewer than half of low-income children in the U.S. have access to quality early learning programs today. There are more than 13 million children from birth to the age of five who need child care services. Tax credits are helpful for families who pay taxes, but many low-income families who do not earn enough to pay taxes cannot benefit from tax credits.
I hope that two-generational, comprehensive programs that include parenting education and workforce development for parents are part of the new administration’s approach to supporting our most vulnerable families. The federal Early Head Start/Head Start Program is a longstanding and respected model that includes health, nutrition, parent training and support services. Unfortunately, at the current funding level, Head Start is able to only serve half of the eligible three- and four-year-olds, and six percent of eligible infants and toddlers.
There are major gaps in the quality and affordability of early childhood and child care programs across the country.
What are the causes of some of the gaps?
We do not have a national, highly skilled workforce of early childhood educators, particularly for children ages birth to three. In part, this is because many places offer little more than minimum wage to child care and early childhood providers, significantly below the average salary for elementary school teachers. Given the low pay, early childhood education is not a popular career path and many colleges do not offer degrees in early childhood.
Without a qualified workforce, we don’t have enough high-quality instruction and programs in the field of early education. Without ongoing professional development for teachers, we aren’t focusing enough on curriculum and developmental approaches such as early math, cultural responsiveness and second language acquisition. And we need to better serve children with special needs.
Do we as a nation believe in equal opportunity? If so, early childhood is the foundation that builds equal opportunity. It is an avenue out of poverty.
Mr. President, I hope that your administration and Congress will design, improve and support public policies that make early childhood development a high priority. I hope that there will be a bipartisan approach to make early childhood services affordable, accessible and of high quality for all of our children.
It is the American way. Education has always been our path to success.