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Harkin Leads HELP Committee Approval of Bill to Expand Access to High-Quality Early Learning Programs

Strong Start for America’s Children Act Would Strengthen Early Education Funding, Help Millions of Working Families

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, issued the following statement after the HELP Committee approved the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, legislation he introduced in November to expand access to high-quality early learning programs.  Harkin’s bill focuses on three key goals: boosting funding for high-quality preschool programs serving low- and moderate-income families; increasing the quality of infant and toddler care offered by providers; and encouraging continued support for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program.  Representative George Miller (D-CA), senior Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee, is the lead author of companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. The measure now goes to the full U.S. Senate for consideration. 

“Helping every child to access high-quality early learning programs is one of the most important investments we can make in our country’s future.  We know that learning begins at birth and the preparation for learning begins before birth, so the earlier we can prepare our students to succeed, the more likely they are to continue in their education and climb the ladder of opportunity.  And Americans overwhelmingly agree that expanding access to high-quality early learning is a critical priority.   That is why a broad coalition of early childhood advocates, retired generals, business leaders, law enforcement organizations, local chambers of commerce, pediatricians, and other health professionals is calling on Congress to pass this bill. 

“We must prepare every child for a lifetime of learning. Today, the HELP Committee took one critical step forward.  I now urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to come together and to join me in this effort to help working families and make a lasting investment in our children’s future.”

As Chairman of the HELP Committee, and as Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, Harkin has long championed early-childhood education programs and has demonstrated a commitment to providing resources to improve access to, and the quality of, early childhood education, including through Head Start, the Child Care and Development Block Grant and the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge.  Earlier this year, under Harkin’s leadership, the Senate passed a reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act.

A Fact Sheet: Strong Start for America’s Children Act 

Millions of young children from low-income families lack access to high-quality, affordable preschool programs. Decades of studies have found that quality preschool leads to a wide range of short- and long-term benefits, including better educational outcomes, stronger job earnings, and lower levels of crime and delinquency. The Strong Start for America's Children Act is a bold, 10-year innovative federal-state partnership to expand and improve early learning opportunities for children across the birth-to-age-five continuum. The Act provides:

Access to Preschool for 4-Year Olds:

  • Formula funding is provided to states, with a state match, for high-quality, full-day pre-kindergarten for four-year old children from families earning below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).
  • States in turn provide sub-grants to local entities to offer children high-quality prekindergarten, which includes:
  • Teachers with high qualifications;
  • Rigorous health and safety standards;
  • Small class sizes and low child-to-staff ratios;
  • Instruction that is based on evidence and is developmentally appropriate;
  • Comprehensive services for children, including strong parent and family engagement, nutritious   meals, and health screening and referrals.

Early Learning Quality Partnerships:

  • New Early Head Start and child care partnerships are supported to improve the quality of child care for infants and toddlers through age three.
  • Local Early Head Start agencies contract with local center-based child care programs and family child care homes serving infants and toddlers to raise child care program quality through training and technical assistance.
  • These partnerships will meet the high-quality performance standards of Early Head Start and blend federal funds to provide high-quality, full-day care.

Home Visitation:

  • The bill expresses a sense of the Senate that federal funding for voluntary, evidence-based home visitation programs be continued.