Casey Unveils Universal Pre-K Bill

Casey Bill Would Provide One Year of Voluntary High Quality Prekindergarten to All Children / As Congress Moves Towards Reauthorizing Elementary and Secondary Act, Casey Also Unveils Potential Amendment that Would Strengthen Existing Early Learning Programs Across Nation / As Universal Pre-K Advances in States like Oklahoma and New York, Casey Bill Will Serve As Federal Template

Casey Unveils Universal Pre-K Bill

Washington, DC- Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) unveiled a bill to provide universal pre-k to children in Pennsylvania and across the nation. Casey’s bill, the Prepare All Kids Act, would provide one year of voluntary, high quality prekindergarten to all children. Additionally, as Congress moves toward a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Casey unveiled new legislation, the Continuum of Learning Act, which could be offered as an amendment and would strengthen coordination and alignment between early childhood programs and elementary schools. As universal pre-k advances in states like Oklahoma and New York, Casey’s bill is set to serve a federal model.

“Investing in early education will help children learn more now so they can earn more later,” Senator Casey said. “High quality pre-k gets children off to a strong start in life and strengthens the foundations of our economy. A bipartisan consensus on early education is emerging across the country. We must take advantage of every opportunity to promote critical advancements in pre-k across the country.  The bills I am introducing today seek to do just that.”

President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Partnership for Children (PPC) Joan Benso said: “PPC strongly supports Sen. Casey's bill and we thank him for his leadership on this important issue. There is compelling research showing the benefits of high-quality pre-kindergarten on school readiness and success beyond school. 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. This type of state-federal funding partnership is similar to the federal CHIP program (enacted in 1997) that fueled a large expansion of health coverage for children in our state and around the nation.”

Long-term scientific research has proven the benefits of investing in early childhood, including investing in high-quality early learning.  Children who attend high-quality prekindergarten are more successful in school, more likely to graduate from high school, and more likely to become productive adults who contribute to the U.S. economy.  Moreover, research shows that for every dollar invested in high quality prekindergarten, we can save as much as $7 in other costs, including crime, welfare and remedial and special education.

The Prepare All Kids Act will:

  • Support states in providing at least one year of voluntary high quality prekindergarten to all children, with an emphasis on children from families with incomes under 200% of the federal poverty level and children with special needs.
  • Ensure high quality learning by requiring prekindergarten programs to utilize a research-based curriculum that supports children’s cognitive, social, emotional and physical development and individual learning styles. 
  • Ensure a high quality learning environment by limiting classroom size to a maximum of 20 children and children-to-teacher ratios to no more than 10 to 1.
  • Ensure high quality teaching by requiring that prekindergarten teachers have baccalaureate degrees (within 6 years), with support for teacher educational development.   
  • Provide designated funding for much-needed programs serving infants and toddlers, ages birth through three. 
  • Meet the needs of children and working parents by providing specific funding that states can use to expand programs to full-day and year-round. 
  • Support and reinforce the importance of other early childhood programs such as Head Start and child care programs by maintaining existing funding levels for those programs. 
  • Ensure continued prekindergarten program quality by requiring states to develop and enforce a monitoring plan. 
  • Support the critical 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.

The Continuum of Learning Act updates the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) to strengthen connections between existing early learning programs and the elementary grades. This bill helps educators from Head Start, child care, other early childhood education programs, and elementary schools work together so young children have a successful continuity of learning and development that sets a strong foundation throughout the K-12 school years and beyond.

The Continuum of Learning Act:

  • Asks states to review and revise their early learning guidelines for birth-to-kindergarten and their K-3 standards to ensure that standards address not only the academic content areas but also the areas of social and emotional development, physical and health development, and approaches to learning that make academic achievement more likely (based on a recommendation of the National Research Council 2008 report)
  • Further encourages professional development of teachers in community early childhood education settings and in school settings, including joint professional development, and provides professional development to elementary school principals and other administrators in child development and appropriate teaching practices (currently an allowable but under-utilized use of ESEA funds)
  • Helps elementary schools work with early childhood programs such as Head Start to create stronger collaborations and better transition policies and practices. Under the act, states plan the creation or revision of teacher certification or licensure in the early elementary grades and younger to reflect the specialized knowledge and skills to teach children in the birth-to-8 age span; and,
  • Encourages greater coordination and collaboration with early childhood programs for schools in need of school improvement.

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