What’s the Big Deal about Early Childhood Learning?

In President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address, Obama pledged to provide high-quality preschool for every child, increase effective early learning opportunities for young children, and extend and expand evidence-based, voluntary home visiting.

Numerous studies show that children who have access to early learning programs are less likely to commit violent crimes and become teen parents, while being more likely to attend college, earn higher salaries, and even create economic returns of up to $11 for every dollar spent on the programs. Results like these have states like South Carolina, Minnesota, and California increasing spending for early childhood education.

AFSA’s President, Diann Woodard has taken a strong stance on the issue stating “There is a clear connection between early childhood education and the strength of our economy. If we are to continue to compete globally with other countries, we must commit as a nation to invest in early childhood education. It is clear that our nation has a moral, ethical, and fiscal responsibility to provide high quality early education and programs for disadvantaged young children that promotes self-development, academic achievement, and active engagement in learning for all children.”

In the United States less than half of children eligible for head start programs are served and only 6 out of 10 kindergarten programs in the United States are open for full-day enrollees. What is even more disheartening is that half of all child service workers and one fifth of preschool teachers do not have high school diplomas. These alarming statistics are putting the nation’s youth at a serious disadvantage. On a global scale the United States is behind most other developed countries when it comes to numbers of enrolled youth and the amount of spending dedicated to early learning programs. According to Think Progress, “Other countries enroll nearly all of their preschool-aged children in programs, yet just half of three-year-olds and two-thirds of four-year-olds in the United States are enrolled. The United States is ranked 21st for the percent of GDP spending devoted to early education programs.”

Early education policies currently in place are greatly flawed and need to be improved. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa has already taken action on this issue and has secured more than $4 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for head start and child care programs. It tremendously increased the number of children receiving early childhood care and education, and improved the quality of care through early childhood workforce development and facility upgrades. Harkin has also introduced the Safe Babies Act. The legislation would help safeguard kids during their pivotal development years. Lastly he has made early childhood education a major focus of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization.

Actions like those taken by Senator Harkin should not be so few and far apart. Citizens should contact their lawmakers and tell them to support early childhood education funding. Investing in our children now, will increase their quality of life and add strength to our economy in the future.