Early Education is a National Priority

According to a nationwide analysis by Education Week, most states have a long way to go toward implementing quality early education programs and enrolling more young children. President Obama has called for universal preschool for low- and middle-income children. He proposed a 10-year, $75-billion plan to be paid for by raising federal tobacco taxes that would provide grants to states meeting certain early education requirements. The White House also announced $1 billion in funding from government, public and private agencies for early education programs, including $750 million in federal investments for preschool development grants. While there is a bipartisan consensus on the importance of early childhood education, debates over funding and methods of implementing these programs continue to hinder progress.

Education Week’s new Early Education Index grades state participation in early education based on enrollment in such programs, poverty-based gaps in enrollment and trends over time. This past year, the U.S. as a whole earned a grade of C based on the three indexes. Overall, almost two-thirds of children between the ages of 3 and 6 are attending school, but more than half of 3- and 4-year-olds are not enrolled in school, according to the report. Significant ethnic, racial and socioeconomic gaps continue to exist in preschool enrollment rates. Children from lower-income families and those with lower parental education are much less likely than their peers to be enrolled in preschool.

Research has found that early education has numerous positive effects on children’s future health and well-being. As voters, we can encourage policymakers to view early education as part of a continuum that connects to kindergarten, elementary school, middle school and high school.

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