Casey Bill Improves Pre-K Access & Quality
Ed Walz (Former Staff)Early Childhood Education Poverty & Family Economics
Washington — The bipartisan First Focus Campaign for Children released a letter today endorsing legislation to make high-quality pre-kindergarten (pre-K) available to more children. The Prepare All Kids Act (S. 502), introduced by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), would establish a federal-state partnership to improve access and promote quality early education.
“Pre-k can provide a solid foundation for lifelong learning, if we ensure that it’s high-quality, and that it’s widely available– Senator Casey’s bill delivers on both counts,” said First Focus Campaign for Children President Bruce Lesley.
Children who attend high-quality pre-K programs show improved academic achievement throughout school and are less likely to drop out of school, become teen parents, or be convicted of a crime. But pre-K initiatives vary considerably in quality, and there are not enough high-quality pre-K providers to serve all age-eligible children. The Prepare All Kids Act addresses both problems.
The legislation includes a set of specific quality promotion policies. It requires research-based pre-K curricula that adapts to individual children’s learning styles and promotes the development of “soft skills” that help children learn how to learn, such as focus, persistence and critical thinking. The also bill sets maximum class sizes and student-teacher ratios, requires that teachers work toward and obtain bachelor’s degrees over time, and requires progress monitoring that does not depend on testing young children.
“It isn’t just about ‘checking the pre-K box’ – it’s about building on what works, so high quality is both expected and attained,” said Lesley.
To promote access, the bill creates a federal-state funding partnership, like the highly successful Children’s Health Insurance Program. To lower cost barriers, the legislation focuses on providing pre-K for children in families earning up to twice the poverty level (about $47,000 for a family of four in 2013, less for smaller families). The objective of this investment is to ensure that all four-year-olds have access to at least one year of high-quality pre-K, while maintaining funding commitments to initiatives serving children from birth through age three. The legislation will require participating states to prioritize access for children with special needs, such as children with disabilities and English language learners.
“High quality pre-K does no good if kids can’t get in the door, and by making high-quality pre-K more available to families who cannot afford it, this bill will help millions of kids get a strong start in school and life,” said Lesley.
President Barack Obama made universal access to high-quality pre-K a focus of his 2013 State of the Union address. The Casey proposal embodies the federal-state partnership outlined by the President. It also includes other critical elements of the White House proposal, like maintaining investments in Head Start and child care.
“President Obama offered a bold vision, and Senator Casey has responded with a plan to make that vision a reality,” said Lesley.
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The First Focus Campaign for Children is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization affiliated with First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization. The Campaign for Children advocates directly for legislative change in Congress to ensure children and families are a priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit www.ffcampaignforchildren.org.