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Child advocates applaud introduction of the Strong Start for America’s Children Act

RALEIGHBipartisan legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate this morning would expand access to early education for 4-year-olds from low-and moderate-income families and improve the quality of child care provided to infants and toddlers.

The Strong Start for America’s Children Act follows President Obama’s State of the Union pledge to close early learning gaps that result in some children entering kindergarten already able to read while others are unable to recognize letters or recite the alphabet.

The bill would support voluntary preschool for children in households that earn at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($47,100 for a family of four), raise education requirements for preschool teachers and offer salaries comparable with K-12 teachers.

“In these times of fiscal austerity, it’s heartening to see members of Congress come together to prioritize investments in early childhood education,” said Deborah Bryan, president and CEO of Action for Children North Carolina. “This legislation underscores what we already know: smart investments made early in children’s lives strengthen future generations, promote a skilled workforce and put children on track for success in school and beyond.

In North Carolina, half of all children live in low-income households.  Currently, 19 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds are enrolled in NC Pre-K, which is funded through general state funds and revenue from the state lottery, in addition to federal and non-required local sources.

Children quality for NC Pre-K based on risk factors which include living in a household that earns at or below 75 percent of the state median income, having an active duty military parent,  developmental delay or identified disability, limited English proficiency and chronic health conditions.

Bryan said the initiative is notable in scale and scope because it promotes a state-federal partnership that serves children across the birth to age 5 continuum. Rather than working through fixed block grants, states would receive matching funds from the federal government to cover the cost of education for all eligible children. States would also be encouraged to expand preschool to children from higher-income households.

Studies have repeatedly linked early childhood education and later payoffs–both personal and societal–including higher wages, academic achievement and lower costs for health care and social services. Children who lack access to early learning opportunities start school at an 18-month disadvantage, a gap that only widens with time. By the time low-income children in North Carolina reach fourth grade just 53 percent are reading on grade level, compared to 84 percent of their higher income peers. These disadvantages culminate in lower graduation rates and reduced opportunity for poor children.

summary of the Strong Start for America’s Children Act is available from the National Women’s Law Center.

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