U.S. Sen. Bob Casey once again made a push for expanding early childhood education, proposing legislation to provide at least a year of voluntary pre-kindergarten through a partnership with the federal government and states.
In addition to preparing children for elementary and secondary schools, it would ensure the nation has a skilled workforce to compete in the global economy, supporters say.
“It’s legislation which makes great sense, because we really don’t have a national strategy or commitment to early learning,” Casey, D-Scranton, said Wednesday during a conference with reporters.
The bill is the latest iteration of the Prepare All Kids Act that he has introduced since 2007 and would focus on low-income and special-needs children. It follows President Barack Obama’s proposal for high-quality preschool for more children, as mentioned in his State of the Union address last month.
Both proposals call for the states to match federal dollars provided to them, qualified teachers in the classrooms and curriculum-based programs. Both also tout the reported benefits of high-quality preschool, saying research shows children are more successful in school, more likely to graduate from high school and more likely to become productive adults who contribute to the nation’s economy.
For every $1 spent in high-quality pre-kindergarten there are as much as $7 in savings in other costs, including crime, welfare and remedial and special education, said Casey.
Missing in both cases, however, was the cost estimate and support from across the aisle.
Casey acknowledged the funding might be small to start off — in light of the debt and deficit challenges facing legislators. He also indicated it would take some effort to gather Republican support. “This issue, quite frankly, has not been very bipartisan,” he said.
He welcomed the president’s proposal and the attention it brings to early childhood education, adding it wasn’t why he unveiled his latest effort.
“I would have anyway,” Casey said.
“Every two years when you have a new Congress, everything dies,” he said of the timing of his legislation.
Some other highlights of the act include:
• Providing designated funding for much-needed programs serving infants and toddlers, ages birth through three.
• Meeting the needs of children and working parents by providing specific funding that states can use to expand programs to full-day and year-round efforts.
•Supporting and reinforcing the importance of other early childhood programs such as Head Start and child care programs by maintaining existing funding levels for them.
•Supporting the critical role of parents in the education of their young children by encouraging parental involvement in programs and assisting families in getting the supportive services.