All children deserve a fair chance at a bright future, and the greatest window of opportunity to make a positive impact occurs during the years between birth and kindergarten. During this time, children develop very quickly, both physically and mentally.
Head Start and Early Head Start have paved the way for high-impact early childhood education programs. These programs, along with early childhood literacy promotion and home visits, have been shown to improve readiness for kindergarten among infants and toddlers in children of low-income families. These programs could be improved. Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2013, Senate Bill (S. 2452) sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin, would extend funding for children up to 200% FPIL and would make resources available to 3 year old children who are currently eligible for high-quality education and family visits only after age 4. Additionally, Strong Start emphasizes parent-family engagement to promote parental involvement in the continued education of the child, especially bilingual children and those with disabilities.
Nearly half of the children in the US today are living at 200% of the federal poverty line (FPIL) or below (annual gross income of $47,700 for a family of four). Socioeconomic status has a great impact on the early development of a child. For example, low income children will hear 30 million fewer words than children of higher socioeconomic status These differences do not disappear over time – rather, the developmental gap widens with age, and it becomes increasingly difficult to catch up.
Investment into additional programs like Strong Start will help a greater number economically disadvantaged children to achieve academic success on levels more comparable to children from higher income status. This is a key component in breaking the cycle of poverty that many families experience in the US because education is a strong force in leveling the playing field.
S. 2452 is currently on the Senate calendar for possible discussion and action. If you believe in extending early educational opportunities to more children, please contact your senator to co-sponsor the bill and encourage his/her vote on this bill. If you would like to read more, please click on the links below.
Andrea Foldes, MD