Historic Opportunity for Early Childhood Education
By Linda K. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood
This morning, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Congressmen George Miller (D-CA) and Richard Hanna (R-NY) introduced a bill for early childhood education, The Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2013.
This is a historic opportunity to move the issue of early childhood on the national stage in a long time. Parents, community leaders, states and national stakeholders are joined together to fight to make sure that every child—regardless of how much money their parents make or what neighborhood they live in—has access to high-quality early education.
We are so excited to be on the forefront of this new chapter in early childhood education. Today, less than five percent of children eligible for Early Head Start are served. With this legislation, the number of children receiving these services during President Obama’s administration will triple.
The proposed bill, based on the latest brain science, makes clear that early learning starts at day one, long before a child’s fourth birthday. Research has taught us that disparities begin to appear as early as 18 months, making it imperative that we not lose focus of the earliest and most formative years of life. By the time children from low-income households reach the age of 3, they will have heard 30 million fewer total words and engaged in fewer back-and-forth conversations than their more affluent peers – a gap that is later associated with disparities in language development, school readiness, and long-term educational outcomes of students. By establishing a high quality continuum of early learning experiences for all of our young children, the Strong Start for America’s Children will assure that they are exposed to the enriching early care and education experiences they need to be ready for school and ready to thrive.
The new Early Head Start-Child Care partnerships are critical to closing this gap, by aiming to increase the scope and quality of early education for children and families, birth to three. These partnerships will support states and communities that expand the availability of Early Head Start and child care programs that meet the highest standards for infants, toddlers, and three-year-olds.
Together, we can continue to build on the excellent work of states and communities, working together to make sure each child has the chance to excel. Thank you to all of you who are so committed to improving the lives of America’s children.
Read the summary of the Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2013
Learning more about the President’s Early Learning Initiative
Linda K. Smith is the Deputy Assistant Secretary and Inter-Departmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In this role she provides overall policy coordination for the Head Start and Early Head Start Program and the Child Care and Development Fund, as well as serving as the liaison with the U.S. Department of Education and other federal agencies. Her office serves as a focal point for early childhood policy at the federal level.