If you’re anything like me, last night’s State of the Union
made you openly weep near the end included more than a few bright spots. As President Obama laid out his agenda for the upcoming year, pundits and regular citizens alike ticked off the routine topics that always get a paragraph or two in these types of big speeches. Debt reduction, tax reform, Medicare costs, infrastructure. Check, check, check, check. We heard the expected responses to the latest controversies. Gun control after Newtown, climate change after Sandy. Check, check. Then we heard something a little unexpected. Universal preschool for all. Whoa!
Paying lip service to the importance of early childhood education has become another generic campaign promise that every candidate throws out there. But actually proposing that paying upwards of $250 a week for preschool simply shouldn’t be the only option? Actually stating that every child needs quality, affordable preschool right now and that we need to find a way to make that happen? Cue my Happy Mom Dance. (It’s really cute. You should see it.)
The President stated:
Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.
Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.
High-quality preschool available to every child in this country. The very idea just makes me feel hopeful about our future.
I happen to know quite a few early childhood educators. I know how hard they work planning age-appropriate lessons to help our littlest learners. I also know how hard it is for them when children come in to kindergarten without any educational backround, unable to recognize their own name or count to ten. Then they have other kids, kids who have been in some form of a classroom for two years now, who read sight words and write their name well enough for any adult to read.
Right now, my daughter is sitting in an amazing pre-kindergarten classroom, and I know how lucky I am that she’s there. I know how lucky I am that I could afford to send her to preschool last year. But I also know children, kids that I’m closed and kids that I love with all my heart, whose parents cannot afford the programs my daughter has attended. I can see how these children are missing out, how they’ll start school already behind and struggling to compete.
Just this summer at the Republican National Convention, Condoleezza Rice bravely spoke out about education being the “Civil Rights Movement of our Era.” Making sure that every child can attend a quality preschool would be a huge step in addressing this issue.
Let’s hope that this is one issue that makes it out of the speech and into the legislature. The children of our country desperately need it.