Today’s Senate HELP Committee mark-up of the Strong Start for America’s Children Act is a significant milestone for the field of early childhood education. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and his colleagues have taken an important step by voting the bill out of committee to ensuring that more children and families have access to high-quality early childhood education opportunities.

The Strong Start for America’s Children Act would establish effective state-federal partnerships to equip states and communities to improve and expand high quality, full-day preschool programs for four-year-olds with the goal of increasing school readiness. The legislation recognizes those states that have met, or will meet certain commitments on behalf of children. Because a variety of early education settings are needed to meet different families’ needs, schools, Head Start programs, and community-based child care can compete for resources to provide quality care in communities that need it. States will also have the flexibility to use funds for quality improvements, and to serve infants and toddlers.

The discussions in the HELP Committee today reinforce the momentum behind increasing federal investments in early childhood education. Both parties acknowledge that increasing access to high-quality early childhood education is a national priority. Today’s conversations show that we’ve moved from ‘why’ these investments are critical to ‘how’ these investments should be structured – which is a significant step.

We support the Strong Start for America’s Children Act because America needs to do more to make sure children get off on the right foot with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. Cops and prosecutors know it. Business leaders and teachers see it. Brain scientists and economists have proven it: when children participate in high quality early learning programs in the first five years of life, they do better in school, get higher-paying jobs, rely less on social programs, lead healthier lives and contribute more to the economy.

Federal action has overwhelming, bi-partisan support among voters. According to a bi-partisan poll conducted in 2013, 70 percent of Americans support a federal plan to help states and local communities provide better early childhood education programs to children from birth to age five—and want Congress to act now.

The Strong Start for America’s Children Act would be transformational policy for children and families, and provide short and long-term economic impact for communities. We call on Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to work together to pass this important legislation. Young children – and our country’s economy – can’t wait.