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Are We Providing a Strong Start for America’s Children?

November 14, 2013

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Julia Auch, Early Childhood Literacy Specialist

Julia Auch, Early Childhood Literacy Specialist

We all know (or should know by now) that high-quality programs benefit everyone: children, families, communities – and because of the return on investment, everyone wins. 

The Strong Start for America’s Children Act has just been introduced in Congress by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Representative George Miller (D-CA), and Representative Richard Hanna (R-NY).

This legislation has basically set three overarching goals:

? to provide grants to states to accelerate their work, expanding access and improving quality for pre-kindergarten programs

? to create Early Head Start – child care partnerships to raise the quality of child care and expand access for infants and toddlers in programs meeting Early Head Start standards

? to provide voluntary support for families that promotes positive parent-child interaction, healthy child development, and family self-sufficiency

In short, this initiative would significantly expand access to high-quality preschool for four-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families through state-federal partnerships.  It would also increase access to high-quality infant and toddler care through an optional funding stream and partnerships between Early Head Start and child care programs.  Once a state made pre-kindergarten available to all of its eligible four-year-olds, it could use federal funds to serve three-year-olds as well.

States could sub-grant funds to schools or community-based providers, but would be required to meet a set of standards that include the following:

–  employ teachers who have bachelor’s degrees and demonstrate competence in early childhood education

–  meet qualifications for maximum class sizes and child-staff ratios

–  offer a full-school-day schedule

–  develop curricula and learning environments that are evidence-based and aligned with the state’s early learning and development standards

–  provide teacher salaries comparable to those for K-12 teachers

–  include professional development for all staff

–  provide for ongoing monitoring and program evaluation for continuous improvement

–  meet health and safety standards.

–  plan for comprehensive services including nutrition and wellness programs, screening and referrals, and assistance with accessing services for vision, dental, health, and general development

In addition, states could use up to 20 percent of their funds to improve quality by providing scholarships and other supports to help teachers receive bachelor’s degrees.  

To receive its allotted funds, a state would be required to already have or work toward having:

–  comprehensive early learning and development standards

 pre-kindergarten data linked with elementary and secondary school data

–  state-funded kindergarten programs

–  state advisory council on early childhood education and care

–  coordination among early childhood programs

–  comprehensive early learning assessments that are culturally, developmentally, and age-appropriate

– performance measures and targets to track the state’s progress in a variety of early-learning benchmarks

That all sounds amazing, doesn’t it!  Here’s the catch… the state of Missouri doesn’t really have all of these pieces in place, at least not at this point.  So, clearly we have some work to do, as always.  The other catch is this… our state is infamous for rejecting the concept of putting indicators into place for accountability, for whatever reason. As an example – Missouri was one of four states that opted not to join the “Race to the Top” educational initiative that required conforming to national standards, back in 2009.  The truth is, I have no idea why this is the case (well, I kind of have an idea), but more importantly, I’m not even sure what to do about it other than inform others, and hope if enough people really understand the ins and outs of why we get passed over frequently for federal funding, perhaps we can begin to change things.

How can you make a difference right now?  Sign the open letter to Congress located on the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) website by clicking on the link below, and show your support for this act!

http://strongstart.naeyc.org/

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