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Statement of Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) at the HELP Committee Hearing “ESEA Reauthorization: Early Childhood Education”

As Prepared for Delivery

“I welcome everyone to our tenth and final hearing on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  Though this hearing falls last on the committee’s calendar, it addresses the very beginning stages of a child’s education.  Today’s discussion will inform us about what we can do to ensure that more young children begin their education fully prepared to learn and succeed. 

“We know that learning starts at birth and preparation for learning starts before birth.  Yet over three-quarters of children ages three  to four do not have access to the early learning opportunities they need.  As a result, nationwide, we spend billions of dollars trying to close gaps in student achievement that could be tempered by investing in high-quality early learning opportunities.  By the time most children from low-income families reach kindergarten, their achievement levels are an average of 60 percent behind those of their peers from more affluent backgrounds.  These same children also tend to possess vocabularies only one-third the size of their middle-class peers.  These achievement and knowledge gaps expand over the summer months, when low-income students have less access to academic support systems and services.  Yet we know that high-quality early learning opportunities provided by committed, capable and caring providers can enable children to overcome these challenges and close achievement gaps.

“A solid initial investment in our young children will save us countless billions in future spending on remedial education, criminal justice, health and welfare programs.  Children who participate in comprehensive high-quality early education programs are also more likely, over their lifetimes, to be healthier, more steadily employed and earn higher incomes.  And, of course, no one can put a value on their enhanced chances for living productive and fulfilling lives.

“ESEA reauthorization offers an important opportunity to help states and school districts ensure that more young children are prepared to succeed in school.   We must find more effective ways of supporting them as they transition into and move through elementary school.   We must think about how early education programs can better align with existing K-12 systems. And we must better understand what educators, school administrators and parents need in order to effectively support and prepare young children to succeed.

“Reauthorization of ESEA also gives us an opportunity to clarify and strengthen current law directing States, school districts and schools to coordinate Title I activities with Head Start programs and other early childhood development programs.  ESEA asks districts to describe how they will coordinate and integrate services, including plans for the transition of children into elementary school programs.  We can build upon this to:

  • Improve collaboration between elementary schools and early learning providers to ensure consistency, alignment and continuity of learning, curricula, standards assessments and goals;
  • Strengthen and improve the coordination of professional development activities for preschool and kindergarten teachers;
  • Strengthen and support state and local investments in quality rating and improvement systems to identify and improve early learning program effectiveness;
  • Ensure that parents and families are engaged and equipped with the skills needed to support children in learning and positive development;
  • Ensure that children with special needs, including children with disabilities and dual language learners, are assessed and provided with the resources they need to learn and develop; and
  • Increase the quality of and access to early learning opportunities.

“I look forward to our witnesses’ views on how best to accomplish these goals.

“Now let me invite my colleague Senator Enzi to share his opening remarks.”