U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., has been introducing legislation aimed at expanding pre-kindergarten opportunities since 2007, but his most recent proposal comes as the topic has gained more attention on the national stage.
In a teleconference Wednesday, Mr. Casey said he will introduce the "Prepare All Kids Act," which is aimed at increasing access to pre-kindergarten education, particularly for children who are low-income or have special needs.
"You can't really begin a discussion about economic growth or job creation or building the kind of skill levels that we need to compete with countries around the world unless we make the investment we should make in early learning," he said.
In the State of the Union address last month, President Barack Obama also highlighted the importance of early childhood education, which he said has to start at the "earliest possible age." The president said $1 spent on high-quality early childhood education saves more than $7 later by reducing some negative outcomes, such as violent crime and teen pregnancy. He proposed "working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America. That's something we should be able to do."
Mr. Casey proposes giving states the opportunity for federal funds to match each additional dollar states spend on early childhood education. He did not have a cost figure, but said he was willing to start smaller than he would like to try to get the "foot in the door so we're at least making the commitment."
Mr. Casey wants to provide at least one year of voluntary high quality pre-kindergarten, using a research-based curriculum. Children-to-teacher ratios would be limited to no more than 10 to 1.
Pre-kindergarten teachers, within six years, would need to have bachelor's degrees.
Existing funds would be maintained for other early childhood programs, such as Head Start.
The senator's proposal and Mr. Obama's have similarities, including sharing costs with states and working to improve the quality of pre-K programs, said John Rizzo, Casey press secretary.
Offering support for the Casey proposal, Joan Benso, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, said, "While Pennsylvania began to invest in pre-kindergarten over roughly the past 10 years, our investments still only provide publicly funded pre-K to about 1 in 6 three- and four-year-old children in our state. We need to build on this effort. A partnership with the federal government would allow Pennsylvania and many other states to expand our efforts and serve more children."
In his proposed 2013-14 budget, Gov. Tom Corbett called for spending $348.4 million on early education, which included increases of $5 million for early intervention, $4.5 million for Pre-K Counts and $1.9 million for Head Start supplemental assistance.
Education writer Eleanor Chute: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1955.