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Should the Federal Government Early Learning

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“The Federal

Government supports

a variety of programs

to support early

education . . .

however, those

investments fall

well short of what

is needed.”

Honorable Tom Harkin United States Senator, Iowa, Democrat

Senator Harkin was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984. He was a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives ß-om 1974 to 1984. He chairs the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and also sits on the following committees: Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; Appropriations, where he chairs the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies; and Small Business and Entrepreneur ship. The following is from the February 6, 2014, hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on “Supporting Children and Families through High-quality Early Education. ”

There truly is nothing more important than what we as a society do to support our young- est children, and I look forward to a robust discussion on that topic today. I would also like to say, at the outset, that I do not believe there is disagreement about ensuring that children who benefit from Federal programs should be in high-quality settings that nurture their healthy development and growth. In fact, I know that Senator [Lamar] Alexander [TN-R] has a great deal of knowledge and passion on these issues because he so ably led the Subcommittee on Children and Families for many years alongside [former] Senator [Christopher] Dodd [CT-D].

Today’s hearing will serve as the first in a series focusing on early learning. Next, I plan to hold a field hearing in Des Moines to explore how early learning programs have benefited the people of Iowa, and what issues Congress should give priority to as we consider new early learning legislation.

In the second week of April, this committee will again convene to discuss early learning, with a particular focus on strengthening the Strong Start for America’s Children Act — legislation that is currently supported by more than a quarter of the Senate. We will hold a mark-up of that legislation before the Memorial Day recess.

In the coming months, the committee will devote a great deal of time and attention to the subject of early learning. I strongly encourage the members of this Committee to hold roundtables and have discussions on early learning in their local communities be- cause there is no issue of greater importance than ensuring that our youngest children are provided the support that they need to live healthy, happy, and productive lives. I believe access to high-quality early education increases the likelihood that children will have those positive outcomes — a view that, I’m sure, is shared by my fellow committee members and the panelists who are with us today. I note that 63 percent of respondents to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, released two weeks ago, placed an absolute priority on ensuring access to preschool this year.

The Federal Covernment supports a variety of programs to support early education and care, such as the Child Care Subsidy program and Head Start; however, those in- vestments fall well short of what is needed. According to the most recent data from the Continued on page 16

14 Congressional Digest • www.CongressionalDigest.com • April 2014

 

 

Increase its Investment in Programs?

Pro ÔCon

Honorable Lámar Alexander United States Senator, Tennessee, Republican

Senator Alexander was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002. He served as Tennessee Gover- nor fi-om 1978 to 1986. He is the ranking minority member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and also serves on the Appropriations Committee and the Rules and Administration Committee. The fiollowing isfiom a February 6, 2014, hearing befiore the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on “Supporting Children and Families through High-quality Early Education. ”

I was an early learner when it comes to the value of early childhood education. For 35 years, my mother operated a preschool program in a converted garage in our backyard in Maryville, Tennessee. She had nowhere else to put me when I was a child, so I must be the only United States senator who spent five years in kindergarten.

In rhe 1960s, she persuaded my father, a former school principal who was on the school board, to build kindergarten classrooms in new schools before the State kinder- garten program began.

In the early 1970s, Tennessee’s governor announced the beginning of a statewide kindergarten program at my mother’s preschool.

In 1987, with Bob Keeshan, better known as Captain Kangaroo, my wife and I founded a company that merged with another company and became the largest pro- vider of worksite day care in the country.

So, for me, the question is not whether but how best to make early childhood edu- cation available to the largest possible number of children in order to give them more of an equal opportunity.

In doing this, I have four suggestions. First, preschool education does not produce miracles. As Mark Lipsey, a psycholo-

gist at Vanderbilt University, said, “Advocates sometimes make preschool sound like you pur rhem in the pre-K washing machines and scrub them clean. And they come our after that. But effects of poverty and disadvantaged environments don’t work that way. It’s a cumulative process, and it’s going to take cumulative efforts to make a big differ- ence. There’s potential here, but we also have to be realistic.

Second, good parenting is the most important factor, and good preschool education doesn’t always have to be expensive. For example, one of the most effective programs in Tennessee was my wife’s “Healthy Children” initiative, which matched expectant moth- ers with pediatricians’ giving every new child a medical home. Helping those mothers become better parents provided those babies with a real head start.

Third, Washington can help, but a national effort to expand effective early edu- cation will be almost all State and local effort and money. Remember rhat approxi- mately 90 percent of elementary and secondary education is paid for by State and local governments.

Continued on page 17

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