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Momentum Around Early Childhood Education Increases

Author: Dr. Karen Ortiz, Vice President and Program Director, Early Grade Success

In April, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited Arizona to discuss the importance of early childhood education in ensuring children develop the language and literacy skills they need to be successful in school.  His visit coincided with the release of “The State of Preschool 2013” from the  National Institute for Early Education Research.

The new report gives an overview of the state of preschool nationally in terms of funding, access and quality.  The report also highlights state-level data on investments made in pre-k programs.   Nationally, 59 percent of four-year-olds are not in federally funded preschool programs.  In Arizona, that number rises to more than 80 percent.  In Florida, that number is 12 percent. 

The reason this is significant is that research demonstrates that high-quality early childhood education supports school readiness, significantly helps bridge the academic achievement gap, reduces dropout rates and antisocial behavior, and increases economic productivity and social stability.

The reality is that when state and federally funded programs are not available, low-income children are the ones who suffer.  And, research shows that by the time low-income children who miss out on preschool reach kindergarten, they’re up to a year behind their peers.   

However, there is good news!

In December of last year, the Arizona Department of Education received a $20 million grant from the federal government to expand access to preschool in low-income communities.  This will go a long way to increasing the number of children who are able to participate in high-quality early learning environments. 

Florida has a Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program (VPK) which has grown from enrolling 100,000 children in 2005 to more than 174,000 in 2012-2013.  VPK is provided in a variety of settings, such as public schools, licensed child care centers, accredited non-public schools, accredited faith based centers, and licensed family child care homes. Regional early learning coalitions monitor programs for compliance and administer VPK, including distributing funds to VPK programs based on a fixed hourly rate.

Nationally, there is increased discussion around the importance of early learning experiences for all children.  Congress is working to re-authorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and many Congressional leaders have also articulated a desire to be champions for early learning.   Incorporating early childhood into ESEA in a more meaningful and intentional way is an important step for the federal government, which plays a key role in supporting early learning in partnership with leaders at the state and local levels.

This is a clear indication that early childhood education is being more broadly recognized as providing the foundational skills, cognitively, socially and emotionally, for success in the early grades among diverse government officials, business executives and civic leaders. With a research base clearly showing early learning’s potential to set the course for a child’s future success, we are hopeful that the final bill reinforces the importance of early childhood education to a child’s success in their elementary and secondary experiences.    

The momentum is growing and we are pleased to see the importance of early childhood education being highlighted in Arizona, Florida and on Capitol Hill. 

To learn more about Helios Education Foundation’s work in Early Grade Success, please click here.  

Category: Early Childhood Education

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