Casey Remarks on his Prepare All Kids Act

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) today delivered remarks on the Senate floor on his bill to help all children prepare for school by providing high-quality pre-kindergarten education. His Prepare All Kids Act (s.1374) was formally introduced on May 11th. A summary of the bill and his prepared remarks are attached.

"My belief in the critical importance of high quality early education for our children was at the heart of my decision to run for the U.S. Senate, said Senator Casey. "If we don't invest money to give children - and particularly the most disadvantaged and at risk children - the services and programs they need in early childhood, they will be at much greater risk of academic failure, drug abuse and even criminal activity when they are older."

The Prepare All Kids Act will assist states in providing at least one year of high quality pre-kindergarten to children. The plan calls for a new federal investment to be accompanied by matching funds from the states.

Pre-kindergarten programs will be available to all children but will be free for low income children who need it the most. The bill has a target population of children from families at or below 200% of the federal poverty level (roughly $40,000 for a family of four).

Senator Casey continued: "My plan strives to 'close the preparation gap' and prepare children to enter school ready to learn by providing universal access to pre-kindergarten programs. Investments in our children and early childhood education should be a top national priority and something that should have bipartisan support. This is one proposal that we can all agree on."

Senator Casey's bill has been endorsed by Pre-K Now, the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, and Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

This plan focuses on five core principles:

A New Federal Investment: To allow states to offer pre-k programs to all low-income families and to allow those who are better off to buy into the program on a sliding scale.

Flexibility for States: Education should be local. States would set their curricula.

Focus on High Quality Programs: Our children need more than daycare. The goal should be to prepare children for school. Early childhood education should do this in a smart fashion.

Accountability with Flexibility: Quality must be assured. But the assessments should be made at the local level by people familiar with the program and the children.

Preservation of Head Start: This new initiative will allow Head Start to focus on the needs of all the disadvantaged children it is supposed to help the most.

The Prepare All Kids Act calls for discretionary funding of $5 billion for FY08, $6 billion for FY09, $7 billion for FY10, $8 billion for FY11, and $9 billion for FY12. States are required to put up a 50% match in cash.

In March 2006, then a candidate for the U.S. Senate, Senator Casey introduced an early childhood education plan -- which his bill is based on -- in Philadelphia at a conference of the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children.

The Senate adopted a Casey amendment to the Senate-passed budget resolution that would create a deficit-neutral reserve fund to open the door for future legislation to help states expand access to early childhood education. The fund would be used to provide assistance to states to offer free or subsidized preschool programs for low-income families.

While in Pennsylvania state government, Senator Casey helped make child care more affordable. As State Auditor General, he uncovered a $400 million stockpile of child care and other funds for low-income working families.

The earlier we invest in children, the better their outcomes. According to a landmark study on life outcomes of children who attended the Perry Preschool Program in Michigan, for every dollar invested, high quality early education programs save more than $17 in other costs, including crime, welfare and education costs.

William Gale and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution observe that investing in early childhood education provides government and society "with estimated rates of return that would make a venture capitalist envious."

Summary of the Prepare All Kids Act

The Prepare All Kids Act will assist states in providing at least one year of high quality pre-kindergarten to children. Studies show high quality pre-kindergarten programs provide enormous benefits that continue into adulthood.

Pre-kindergarten will be free for low-income children who need it the most.

Pre-kindergarten programs will utilize a research-based curriculum that supports children's cognitive, social, emotional and physical development and individual learning styles.

States will not be able to divert designated funding for other early childhood programs into pre-kindergarten. Pre-k programs should build upon and support other early childhood programs like Head Start and child care.

Classrooms will have a maximum of 20 children and children-to-teacher ratios will be no more than 10 to 1. Children need individualized and quality attention to thrive and these requirements provide that.

Pre-kindergarten programs will consist of a 6-hour day. This requirement supports both children and working parents who need high quality programs for their children while they work.

Infant and toddler programs will receive a portion of the funding. These programs typically receive the lowest dollars of all early childhood programs, making it difficult for working parents, many of them single mothers, to find quality child care for the youngest of children.

A portion of funding will be used to create extended day and extended year programs. Working families struggle to afford high quality care for their children during after school hours and the summer months - this provision will increase the availability of good options.

Pre-kindergarten teachers will be required to have a bachelor's degree at the time they are employed, or obtain one within 6 years. Funding under my bill may also be used for professional development purposes by teachers.

Pre-kindergarten programs will be accountable to a state monitoring plan that will appropriately measure individual program effectiveness.

Remarks by Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.

May 22, 2007

Madam President, I rise today to focus the attention of the Congress, and the attention of the country, upon an issue that is at the heart of why I asked the people of Pennsylvania to allow me to serve in the United States Senate.

That issue is the well being of our children and their future.

Madam President, when we greet one another in this country we typically say 'Hello' and 'How are you?' But the standard greeting of the East African Masai people is not 'How are You?' but rather, 'How are the Children?' This culture embodies the wisdom that the health of any civilization is always a reflection of the well being of its most vulnerable citizens - its children.

I am distressed and alarmed that in response to the question, 'How are the Children?' the answer today, here in the richest country on earth, is this: The children, and particularly children from low income and working families, are not well.

Our children are not faring well because six years of this administration's budget cuts have decimated vital services for children and working families - cuts to child care assistance, Head Start and other early childhood programs that help children get off to a good start.

Madam President, I am determined to reverse the course this Administration has taken in slashing funding for critical children's programs and I know that a great many of my colleagues - on both sides of the aisle - are equally determined. Some of the presidential candidates have begun talking about the importance of early education and I am heartened by the increased public attention this will garner. If we don't invest money to give children - and particularly the most disadvantaged and at risk children - the services and programs they need in early childhood, they will be at much greater risk of academic failure, drug abuse and even criminal activity when they are older. We can spend upwards of $40,000 on incarceration, thousands of dollars on drug treatment and special education - or we can spend a small fraction of that now on high quality preschool and give children the good start they deserve. We can pay now or we can pay later. The choice is ours.

On Friday, May 11, I introduced a bill, the "Prepare All Kids Act of 2007." The primary goal of my bill is to help states provide high quality pre-kindergarten programs that will prepare children, and particularly disadvantaged children, for a successful transition to kindergarten and elementary school. My bill reflects the wisdom that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Most states have either begun or are on the way to developing pre-kindergarten programs. In my own state, the new Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts initiative will provide approximately 11,000 3- and 4-year-olds with voluntary, high-quality pre-kindergarten that is targeted to reach children most at risk of academic failure. But states need our financial assistance. My "Prepare All Kids Act" provides this assistance - with conditions and matching commitments from states. Grounded in research and best practices, my bill provides a blend of state flexibility and high quality standards that will serve children well.

Here is a quick summary of the main components of my bill and why they are important for children and families:

The Prepare All Kids Act will assist states in providing at least one year of high quality pre-kindergarten to children. Studies show high quality pre-kindergarten programs provide enormous benefits that continue into adulthood.

Pre-kindergarten will be free for low income children who need it the most- the cost of pre-kindergarten can be financially draining and even prohibitive for low income and working families.

Pre-kindergarten programs will utilize a research-based curriculum that supports children's cognitive, social, emotional and physical development and individual learning styles. Experts tell us that at the preschool stage, social and emotional learning can be as important, perhaps even more important. than cognitive learning. This is where early socialization takes place - learning to share, pay attention, work independently, express feelings - all these are critical to successful childhood development.

Classrooms will have a maximum of 20 children and children-to-teacher ratios will be no more than 10 to 1. Children need individualized and quality attention to thrive and these requirements provide that.

Pre-kindergarten programs will consist of a 6-hour day. This requirement supports both children and working parents who need high quality programs for their children while they work.

Pre-kindergarten teachers will be required to have a bachelors degree at the time they are employed, or obtain one within 6 years. Funding under my bill may also be used for professional development purposes by teachers.

States will not be able to divert designated funding for other early childhood programs into pre-kindergarten. We want pre-kindergarten to build upon and support other early childhood programs like Head Start and child care. We do not want pre-kindergarten to replace these programs in any way. All these programs are necessary and serve different purposes.

Pre-kindergarten programs will be accountable to a state monitoring plan that will appropriately measure individual program effectiveness.

Infant and toddler programs will receive a portion of the funding. These programs typically receive the lowest dollars of all early childhood programs, making it difficult for working parents, many of them single mothers, to find quality child care for the youngest of children.

A portion of funding will be used to create extended day and extended year programs. Working families struggle to afford high quality care for their children during after school hours and the summer months - this provision will increase the availability of good options.

Finally, my bill supports the important role of parents in the education of their young children by encouraging parental involvement in programs and assisting families in getting the supportive services they may need. Children come in families and to truly help children, we have to involve and support their parents.

There is one additional component of my bill that I'd like to highlight. My bill ensures that pre-kindergarten providers will collaborate and coordinate with other early childhood providers so that pre-kindergarten programs can support and build upon existing programs and services for children. This is a very high priority for me. For example, Head Start has provided effective and comprehensive early education to the most economically disadvantaged children for the past 40 years. And community-based child care providers are absolutely vital to the well being of our children. In crafting my bill and establishing a new federal funding source for state pre-kindergarten programs, I have zealously protected the importance of federal support and funding for Head Start and child care programs. All these programs are necessary for a system of early childhood education that truly serves children and families by providing families with multiple options, avoiding duplication of services, and giving children access to the services and support they need to get the best possible start in life.

Madam President, I believe that investing in our children is our moral responsibility. But for anyone who needs additional reasons, decades of research on the life outcomes of children who have attended early education programs prove the wisdom of this investment.

A landmark study of the Perry Preschool Program in Michigan began in 1962. Children were randomly assigned to attend the preschool or not, and then tracked over many years to measure the long term impact of high quality preschool. By age 27, the children excluded from the program were five times more likely to have been chronic law-breakers than those who attended the program. By age 40, those who did not attend the Perry Preschool Program were more than twice as likely to be arrested for violent crimes. Those who did not attend the Perry Preschool Program were also more likely to abuse illegal drugs.

The research also confirms that high quality pre-kindergarten programs not only keep children out of trouble, they help children succeed academically. Children in the Perry Preschool Program were 31 percent more likely to graduate from high school than children who did not attend the program. Children who were not enrolled in the Perry Preschool Program were also twice as likely to be placed in special education classes.

Another long-term study comparing 989 children in the Chicago Child-Parent Center to 550 similar children who were not in the program showed that children who did not participate in the program were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18. Children who attended the program were 23 percent more likely to graduate from high school.

So we know that high quality early education is invaluable for children. They do better in school, they're less likely to repeat a grade or be held back, less likely to need remedial help or special education. And they are less likely to engage in delinquency, drug use and other dangerous behaviors. But the research shows much more.

It turns out that these investments in young children save us quite a bit of money. Specifically, for every dollar invested, high quality early education programs save more than $17 in other costs. Madam President, that is what I call a smart investment. Many leading economists agree that funding high quality pre-kindergarten is among the best investments government can make. An analysis by Arthur Rolnick, Senior Vice President and Director of Research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, showed that the return on the investment of the Perry Preschool Program was 16 percent after adjusting for inflation. Seventy-five percent of that return went to the public in the form of decreased special education expenditures, crime costs, and welfare payments.

To put this in perspective, the long-term average return on U.S. stocks is seven percent after adjusting for inflation. Thus, while an initial investment of $1,000 in the stock market is likely to return less than $4,000 in 20 years, the same investment in a program like the Perry Preschool is likely to return more than $19,000 in the same time period. [CHART] William Gale and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution observe that investing in early childhood education provides government and society "with estimated rates of return that would make a venture capitalist envious."

Madam President, with research as clear and compelling as this, I defy anyone to give me one good reason why we are not investing more - much more - in sound early education for our children.

I guess we shouldn't be surprised, though, that despite the evidence, this administration has gone in the opposite direction. Under this administration, cuts to early childhood programs have hurt hundreds of thousands of children and the numbers are only growing. Head Start has been cut 11 percent since 2002. The National Head Start Association calculates that by 2008 our country will have 30,399 fewer children in Head Start than in 2007 - that figure includes nearly 1,100 children from Pennsylvania.

The president has also called for a freeze in funding for child care assistance - for the sixth year in a row. Currently, only one in seven eligible children receives federal child care subsidies. Years of flat funding have already resulted in the loss of child care assistance for 150,000 children. By 2010, 300,000 more children are slated to lose out. In my own state, the current trajectory will mean the loss of $14 million in child care assistance by 2012.

This is, very simply, unacceptable. And it is profoundly wrong. And it is fiscally irresponsible.

I began my remarks this morning with the question, 'How are the Children?' Madam President, the current answer to that question is not acceptable.

It is my deep conviction that as elected public servants, we have a sacred responsibility to ensure that all children in this country have the opportunity to grow to responsible adulthood, the opportunity to realize their fullest potential, to live the lives they were born to live. The "Prepare All Kids Act" is a big step in that direction and I ask my colleagues to join me in supporting this bill. Everything we do in Congress has some impact - in one way or another and for good or for bad -upon the well being of our children. Our children are our future. With everything we do we must ask ourselves, "How are the children?" And Madam President, we cannot rest until the answer to this most fundamental of questions is: "The children - all the children - are well." I yield the floor.

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