With all the worries about the economy, two wars, and the final throes of what has seemed to be an endless presidential campaign, Congress might have been forgiven for temporarily setting aside issues relating to getting our youngest Americans ready for school. Which is why BoardBuzz was so happy to get a notice from Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Kit Bond (R-MO) about a briefing they were hosting to refocus the attention of Capitol Hill on the early educational needs of children. We were even more delighted when we arrived at the standing-room-only briefing room — proof that interest in early childhood is not going away. According to Pre-K Now, one of the event’s conveners:
“By their co-sponsorship of today’s briefing, Senators Clinton and Bond underscored their commitment to reintroducing the Ready to Learn Act, in the next Congress. The bill aims to improve the quality of and expand access to voluntary preschool programs by providing funding for states through a competitive process and allowing governors to build on pre-existing early childhood systems.”
In kicking off the briefing, Governor Bredesen of Tennessee emphasized that the most benefit conveys from pre-kindergarten programs that have high quality. He stated that an appropriate role for the federal government is to co-fund state-designed programs, but only if they meet specified quality indicators. We also heard from Jerry Weast, superintendent of Montgomery County schools in Maryland, who attributed his system’s notable success at narrowing achievement gaps in large part to their investment in high-quality pre-K.
Certainly the most emotional punch came last when we heard from the 2006 National Teacher of the Year, Kimberly Oliver Burnim, who many BoardBuzz readers may recall was a great hit at NSBA’s 2006 annual conference in Chicago. Burnim related the heartbreaking story of one little girl who came to her kindergarten class so full of hope and excitement only to see her spark snuffed as it became apparent that she was not on par with her peers. The reason, according to Burnim, was that this child had not had the same experiences other children had coming in. Her remarks reminded us that, yes, communities and schools all benefit in the long-term when we invest in pre-kindergarten, but at the heart of the issue is doing what is good and necessary for children.
School board members get the connection between getting kids ready for school and their own success as education leaders. For two years, the Center for Public Education has been working in partnership with three state school board associations — Kansas, Ohio, and Texas –to help school boards become engaged in early education in their states. The Center’s pre-K initiative, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, was recently renewed for another two years and has expanded the partnership to include state associations in Alabama and Kentucky.
Among other pre-K resources, the Center sends out a monthly e-newsletter that addresses very practical pre-K policies and implemetation issues for those working to expand high-quality pre-K in their states and districts. You can sign up for the Pre-K Primer here.
Also check out NSBA’s early education advocacy page and its Pre-K Legislative Committee to keep up on what’s new in federal early ed activities. See here for some of the pre-K bills introduced by members of Congress.