Iowa Senator Tom Harkin is holding the first in a series of hearings in Washington D.C. today to gather input on what he calls “early learning,” targeting young children in the years before they start kindergarten. Harkin, a Democrat, says it’s one of his top priorities to see passage of a bill he introduced in November called the Strong Start For America’s Children Act.
“Because our nation neglects early learning, we end up playing catch-up ball throughout elementary, middle and high school, even college,” Harkin says. “This neglect is especially damaging for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.” The bill is designed to expand access to high-quality early learning experiences for children from birth to kindergarten.
Harkin says the legislation would boost funding for preschool programs serving moderate and low-income children, increase the quality of infant and toddler care offered by providers, along with offering broad improvements to child care programs. “By some measures, 5-year-olds from low-income backgrounds score more than two years behind their middle- and upper-class peers on tests for language development,” Harkin says. “This achievement gap, even before the children enter kindergarten, makes a mockery of our promise of equal education and equal opportunity for all.”
Harkin quoted from studies saying early learning can help reduce crime rates, reduce the need for special education in K-through-12, and increase the likelihood of living a healthier lifestyle. “Most importantly, it improves cognitive abilities and helps to insure that children, including children from disadvantaged backgrounds, are up to speed when they enter kindergarten.” Harkin says he’s planning to hold a field hearing on early learning in Iowa next week. It’s scheduled for February 14th in Des Moines.