By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has reintroduced her Universal Prekindergarten and Early Childhood Education Act, which would provide federal funds to encourage states to provide universal prekindergarten to every child, regardless of income.

According to a news release, the bill would afford the benefits of early childhood education to all families, many of which are currently not able to afford it.

“The earliest years of childhood are critical for brain development, which means that every child should have access to the benefits of early childhood education,” Congresswoman Norton said.

“Just as providing K-12 education is essential, universal prekindergarten is an investment that we must make as a nation to ensure every child has the opportunity to succeed.”

Congresswoman Norton’s bill fills the prekindergarten education gap by using existing public-school infrastructure and standards for public school teachers, which would make prekindergarten more affordable and accessible.

Norton’s bill would institutionalize prekindergarten, like kindergarten today, in publicly funded schools for parents who desire it, according to the Congresswoman’s office.

“My bill would establish and expand prekindergarten programs in public and public charter schools for three- and four-year-old children,” Congresswoman Norton stated.

The prekindergarten years are critical for children’s brain development, she insisted.

“My bill seeks a breakthrough in public education by providing funding for states to add prekindergarten for children at three and four years of age, like kindergarten programs for five-year-old children now routinely available in public schools,” the Congresswoman asserted.

“This bill would eliminate major shortcomings of unevenly available day care and, importantly, would take advantage of the safe facilities required in public schools,” she said.

Congresswoman Norton continued:
“My bill provides federal funds to states, which must be matched by at least 20 percent of a state’s own funds, to establish or expand universal, voluntary prekindergarten in public and public charter schools, regardless of income.
“The classes, which would be full-day and run throughout the entire school year, must be taught by teachers who possess equivalent qualifications to those teaching other grades in the school. The funds would supplement, not supplant, other federal funds for early childhood education. The unique money-saving aspect of my bill is that it uses the existing public-school infrastructure and trained teachers to make early childhood education available to all, saving billions of dollars in implementation costs.”

She added that the success of Head Start and other prekindergarten programs, combined with new scientific evidence on the importance of brain development in early childhood, virtually mandates the expansion of early childhood education to all children.

Early learning programs mainly have been available only to the affluent, who can afford them, and to some low-income families in programs such as Head Start, which would be unaffected by the bill, Congresswoman Norton concluded.

“My bill provides a practical way to universal, public preschool education for the majority of families. The goal of the bill is to afford the benefits of early childhood education to the working poor, lower middle class, and middle class, most of whom have been left out of this essential education for their children,” she stated.

“We cannot afford to allow the most fertile years for childhood development to pass unenriched. My bill responds to the great needs of parents who seek early childhood education, as well as to today’s brain science, which shows that a child’s brain development begins much earlier than had been previously understood.”

Finally, the congresswoman said considering the staggering cost of day care, the inaccessibility of early childhood education and the opportunity that early education offers to improve a child’s chances of success, schooling for three- and four-year-old children is overdue.

The absence of viable options for families demands our immediate attention, she declared.

“My bill reflects what jurisdictions throughout the nation increasingly are trying to accomplish. The District of Columbia, for example, has achieved an extensive integration of early childhood education as part of a larger effort to improve D.C. public schools,” Congresswoman Norton remarked.
“I strongly urge my colleagues to support this legislation.”