Washington, D.C.—Today, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee began markup of Sen. Tom Harkin’s proposed rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), “Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013.” The draft legislation’s renewed focus on early learning is an essential step in ensuring that all children begin school and are fully prepared for later success in school, career and life.

First Five Years Fund applauds Sen. Harkin for strengthening the role of early learning in states and school districts nationwide. His legislation builds upon current law, as well as progress made by states through initiatives such as the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Fund. Included in Senator Harkin’s reauthorization proposal, the Early Learning Challenge rewarded state innovation and commitment to building effective and efficient systems to support school readiness.

The proposed legislation will allow Democratic and Republican states alike to continue efficient and cost effective early learning efforts and will provide educators with critical tools and supports, such as standards, professional development and transition strategies that are needed to ensure children are successful when they enter school. Educators, administrators and state superintendents have prioritized high-quality early learning as an essential part of their long-term strategies for improving student outcomes and boosting the prospects of their local communities. The proposed updates to ESEA can provide support for these efforts by reinforcing the connections between early childhood and K-12 education through better integration and coordination.

Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman’s research shows the numerous benefits of high-quality early learning for disadvantaged children from birth to five. Not only are early childhood programs proven to be the most effective way to prepare children for academic success, they also boost the economy by providing better outcomes to families and taxpayers for the life of the child. The numbers speak for themselves: early childhood investments for disadvantaged children yield a 7-10 percent return – per child, per year – through improved education, health and social outcomes and the reduced need for social spending.

The bill’s focus on early learning represents the evolution of education since 2011, and is emblematic of the groundswell of national support for early childhood education—from President Obama and his Preschool for All plan to educators, business leaders, retired generals, economists and child advocates. ESEA reauthorization under Sen. Harkin’s proposed legislation is an important initial step.

First Five Years Fund commends Sen. Harkin’s efforts to put children on a path to success while strengthening our entire economy and our nation’s future. We look forward to working with him and members of both parties in Congress to ensure that early learning remains a top priority.