In Iowa’s Interest: Investments in Early Learning Pay Off PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Sen. Tom Harkin   
Wednesday, 18 December 2013 14:54

By Senator Tom Harkin

In 1991, the Committee on Economic Development issued a landmark report titled “The Unfinished Agenda: A New Vision for Child Development and Education.”  The group consisted of some of the top business executives in America who took a tough-minded look at American education, and concluded that the highest rate of return on investment for our education dollars would come from investing in early learning from birth to age five.

More recently, in 2010, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – again, tough-minded business executives – issued a major report.  And their report concluded that quality early learning is critical to our national economic security.

If we fail to invest in children early on, during the period of their most rapid development, those children are more likely to enter school behind. If the playing field is unleveled at the outset, how can we hope to remain a nation of promise and prosperity for all? It is with that in mind that I have introduced the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, a bill that would greatly expand access to high-quality early learning experiences for children from birth to kindergarten entry.

Something that we need to expunge from our lexicon is the term “pre-school.”  There is no such thing as pre-school because we know that learning begins at birth and the preparation for learning begins before birth.  My bill reinforces this idea by ensuring that our most vulnerable children have the support they need to be healthy, happy, and ready for school on the first day of kindergarten. We start by creating new early learning quality partnerships, so that Early Head Start grantees can partner with center-based and family child care providers to offer infants and toddlers full-day, full-year, high-quality services.

I also proposed a new federal-state partnership to accelerate the work currently being done in states to support high-quality early learning for 3- and 4-year olds.  To receive funding through the partnership, states must support programs that are of high-quality, meaning programs must have well-trained teachers, low class sizes, low child-to-staff ratios, curricula that are developmentally appropriate, and programs must provide other services that support the non-academic needs of kids, including nutritious foods, physical activity, and strong parent and family engagement.  These are the kinds of common-sense, research-based activities and services that any parent would want for their child, and they also reflect the type of support that many states and communities are currently providing in their early learning programs.

I want to thank President Obama for calling for this deep investment in early learning during his State of the Union.  This legislation follows through on that vision.  But it will also face opposition from those who say we can’t afford it.  The evidence and research around early learning is too strong to ignore and if we don’t invest now, we will pay for it later in the form of high school drop-outs and crowded prisons.  Quite simply, failing to invest in high-quality early learning is against our moral and economic responsibility as a nation.

For more information, please visit Senator Harkin’s website at, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter


A PDF version of this article is available here.

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