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A Strong Start: Act on PreK

Last night in his State of the Union Address, the President recommitted to ensuring that all low- and moderate-income four-year-olds have access to a high-quality prekindergarten experience. This is an important goal to keep on the front burner. And it is one that is widely shared. 

Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Americans believe that ensuring all children have access to preschool education is an absolute priority this year, according to a new poll [PDF]. These poll results are consistent with four earlier polls showing that an overwhelming majority of the American public agree that better early childhood education is very important as is public funding to provide children with access to these programs. This support held among both parents and non-parents, and both Democrats and Republicans. 

High-quality early education is also supported by a growing number of state and local elected officials from both parties. Already this year, New York City Mayor De Blasio and New York Governor Cuomo have offered plans to expand prekindergarten. California’s Senate leader Darrell Steinberg is heading a legislative effort to extend preschool to all of the state’s four-year-olds. Indiana Governor Mike Pence is championing a new state investment in preschool. Other governors have made the expansion of preschool a focus of their state agendas as well. 

Support for preschool is bolstered by research showing that high-quality preschool is one of the key strategies to help close the achievement gap and reduce inequality in our country. Longitudinal studies find that children who attend these programs are more likely to be successful adults — more likely to finish high school and have higher incomes, and less likely to be teen parents or become involved in the justice system. Recent research on large-scale public preschool programs also find that they can boost children’s early reading and math skills as well as their socio-emotional development and health. 

Yet, even with these impressive results, only about half of three- and four-year olds are enrolled in public or private preschool programs. Low- and moderate- income children are less likely to be enrolled than higher-income children. And even children who are enrolled in preschool are often not in the high-quality programs that help them succeed. 

The State of the Union laid out a readily achievable goal that would benefit children and their families, as well as our current and future economy. This is a goal that we need to start working toward immediately. Children are only four once and they don’t get a do over. Congress has laid out a path to expand early learning opportunities in the bipartisan Strong Start for Children Act. If they make passing this bill a priority, Congress can help give low- and moderate-income children the strong start they need to succeed by acting on PreK now. 

It's time for change, and we must act now. Time's up.