Senate Democrats Propose Preschool Expansion

WASHINGTON (The Seattle Times/MCT) -

Staking a major investment in early-childhood education — and in defiance of federal austerity — a group of lawmakers is proposing to offer free preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families.

The bill, being introduced Wednesday, is an ambitious follow-up to President Obama’s pledge during his State of the Union address to narrow early learning deficits, where some children enter kindergarten already reading and others unable to write their names.

The Strong Start for America’s Children Act calls for spending $34 billion in the first five years alone. Among other things, the money would pay for voluntary preschool for kids from households with income of up to twice the poverty level ($47,100 for a family of four), raise education requirements for preschool teachers and help boost their pay to parity with K-12 teachers.

Studies have repeatedly found correlation between early-childhood education and later payoffs, both personal and societal, including higher wages and academic achievements and reduced costs for health-care and social services.

The bill makes state-funded kindergarten a condition for applying for preschool grants.

The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), and co-sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D.-Wash.) and eight other Senate Democrats. Two House members, including Republican Richard Hanna of New York are also supporting it.