Strong Start for America’s Children Act is Announced Calling for an Increase in Early Learning Opportunities

On Wednesday, November 13th Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Representative George Miller (D-CA) and Representative Richard Hanna (R-NY) introduced bi-partisan legislation, which AFSA has officially endorsed, to improve the access and affordability of high-quality learning programs. The act would make early education a reality for nearly 20 million low and moderate income children who desperately need access to early learning services.

AFSA attended the bill’s introduction at the Senate Capitol Visitor’s center along with a wide range of early learning supporters, including national organizations, elected officials, business leaders, military personnel, law enforcement, parents and many others. The diversity among the crowd and participants helped highlight the tremendous support for early childhood education, and for the legislation.

Senator Harkin, first to speak, referenced a 1991 report by the business community that found our country needs to invest more in early education. He stated that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce came to the same conclusion in 2010, almost 20 years later. Senator Harkin said this is not new, and that “The problem isn’t that children aren’t learning in America, the problem is the adults aren’t learning.” The Senator went on to say that all children deserve to be “Healthy, happy, and ready to learn on their first day of kindergarten. If we don’t invest now, we will pay for it later.”

Representative George Miller stated, “The fact is quality early education works. The problem is too many children do not have access to it.”

“Our country can’t wait, our economy can’t wait, and most importantly our children shouldn’t have to. That is why we are here today.” Rep. Miller called for more funding in the budget process for early education, and expressed optimism the Budget Conference committee would include it in their proposal. “If they are truly concerned with the deficit, we must address the causes. This is one of the causes.”

Representative Hanna pointed out the importance of early learning, and how it can be used to break the cycle of poverty. He stated that, “Access to early education will make our economy more competitive. 1 out of 4 will begin their life in poverty. This bill will make sure they don’t end their life in poverty.”  He ended his remarks by declaring, “I might be the first republican to sponsor this bill, but I will not be the last.”

Next to speak was Jennifer Garner, actress and strong advocate of the Save The Children Program. In her role with the program, Ms. Garner visits and provides support to many low income homes. She said there are no books in these homes, no child drawings hanging on the refrigerator, and what stands out the most is no noise. The children are never read to, their development is hindered, and they enter school as remedial learners. On average, children from lower income homes hear 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers. She stated, “We have an historic opportunity to right this wrong.”

Last to speak was Secretary Arne Duncan, who has been traveling the country in support of early education. Secretary Duncan pointed out we have a 25 percent dropout rate and stated, “There are no good jobs out there for dropouts. If you don’t get a good start, you are constantly playing catch up. And quite honestly, we do not play catch up very well.” He also emphasized, “There is nothing political about giving kids an education. In the real world, there is enormous support for early education. This is about creating stronger families and supporting parents. There are more republican governors who are investing in early education than democrat governors.”