In recognition of the critical learning needs of babies and toddlers, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) has unveiled the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, a bipartisan bill that proposes broad investment in educational and development programs for very young children. The bill, which is sponsored by Harkin, chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, along with Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY), lays out plans for a new pre-K program for four-year-olds and increased educational support for younger children.
The initiative targets research showing that at-risk children often fall behind their peers by age two, producing a learning gap by the time they reach kindergarten. Nationally, almost 48 percent of American children under age three are from low-income families, and 25 percent are from families with incomes below the poverty level, according to the organization Zero to Three, which also produced an infographic about the act.
Aiming to improve both the breadth and quality of learning for preschool children, the act includes the following initiatives:
- Authorizes $4 billion for Early Head Start programs who would partner with local center-based and family child care programs
- Allows states to designate 15 percent of their Pre-K funding to successful infant and toddler child care organizations
- Supports a home visiting initiative, the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHVP), whose work has proven to have a positive influence on early development and parenting skills
- Creates a federal-state partnership with funding for eligible states based on that state’s proportion of four-year-old children under 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
“Learning begins at birth, and the preparation for learning begins before birth. The investment we make as a nation in early learning will pay dividends for generations to come,” says Harkin in his announcement, released by his office today along with a detailed fact sheet.
“Decades of research tell us that from infants and toddlers to preschoolers, early learning is the best investment we can make to prepare our children for a lifetime of success. Today, 39 states and the District of Columbia offer state-funded early learning programs, but without stronger investments, millions of children will continue to go without access to these crucial programs.”
Harkin also sponsored the Strengthening America’s Schools Act in June.