Yesterday’s New York Times editorial appropriately highlighted an important milestone that will be reached this Thursday: More than 50,000 4 year olds will start voluntary, full-day preschool in New York City.
Mayor Bill de Blasio certainly did it his way by making preschool a signature issue in his campaign for mayor, bringing together the best and brightest early learning advocates in New York, focusing on universal access to quality programs, making his case to New Yorkers and state government, and ultimately getting the funding not only for high quality preschool programs, but for much needed after-school programs as well.
Certainly, all eyes are on New York. Mayor de Blasio has said himself that the stakes are high and the attention is both a blessing and a curse. While, as the Times editorial points out, there may be bumps in the road to full implementation they shouldn’t obscure the accomplishment of making sure each child in New York City now has the resources to get a strong start in life through effective early learning.
This is a triumph, but it’s not an isolated one—nor a partisan one. While much attention has been given to Mayor de Blasio’s new brand of progressive politics, investing in quality early childhood education programs has bi-partisan support as evidenced by early childhood investments made by governors and legislatures in red and blue states alike. FFYF’s recent national public opinion poll showed what’s driving this change: voters across all parties see early childhood education as a practical, not partisan way to get better education, health and economic outcomes. Leaders across the political spectrum are embracing the evidence, listening to public will and building programs that make sense for their states and communities.
Admittedly, New York is a unique place with a unique set of resources. However, there are federal resources available to states and localities that can help them build greater access to quality early childhood education programs. For example, reauthorization of Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) includes important opportunities to increase activities known to boost quality and child outcomes, such as enhanced professional development, licensing and monitoring, and Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS). Preschool Development Grants are available to encourage an adequate supply of high-quality preschool slots and qualified teachers, monitor for continuous improvement, partner with local education agencies and other providers, and sustain high-quality services. Greater federal investments through initiatives like the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, will provide states and local communities with even more resources to provide children with access to quality early learning programs. It’s up to us to make sure this happens.
So keep this in mind as 50,000 four-year-olds walk into New York preschools tomorrow morning: Early childhood education has made it there; we can make it everywhere.