Murray: Investment in early education crucial to state, U.S.

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Here in Washington state, we take education seriously.

We're home to world-class universities like the University of Washington and Washington State University.

We're taking innovative approaches to prepare our children for jobs of the future at places like Henrietta Lacks High School right here in Clark County.

And our state's Supreme Court ruled last year that we're constitutionally obligated to fully fund a quality K-12 education system.

But when it comes to early education and helping our children enter kindergarten ready to succeed, we have a long way to go.

In Washington state, 91 percent of eligible 3-year-olds and 80 percent of eligible 4-year-olds don't attend state- or federally funded preschool, and by the time they get to kindergarten, those children are far behind their peers on the path to success.

It's not fair to those kids, it's not good for our state, and it's time we did something about it.

That's why I joined a bipartisan group of my colleagues this week to introduce legislation that will give every child in Washington state and across the country access to high-quality early education.

It's personal

The bill is called The Strong Start for America's Children Act, and it's designed to dramatically increase access to and the quality of early learning programs that start when a child is born and last until their first day of kindergarten.

It works directly with individual states to create early learning programs with quality teachers and high standards, but it also provides states, school districts and preschool programs the flexibility they need to meet their local needs.

And for me, this issue isn't just about good policy -- it's personal.

As a former preschool teacher, I got started in politics when I went to Olympia to fight for my children's early education program that was being cut. When I got there, I was told that I couldn't make a difference because I was only "a mom in tennis shoes."

But I knew that if we wanted to strengthen our economy and give our kids a brighter future, we couldn't wait until they were teenagers or adults to invest in them.

I'd seen that my own students who knew to raise their hand to ask a question or how to stand in line to go to recess were the ones prepared to tackle a full curriculum in school. Military leaders, law enforcement officials, economists and business owners agree: early education makes our country stronger, and it's never been more important to invest in high-quality programs for every American child.

Study after study shows that children in early education programs are less likely to be held back in school, require special education, engage in criminal activity or use social safety net programs as adults. They're more likely to graduate from high school and start a career.

In fact, one study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that for every dollar invested in early education, we save as much as $17 in the future.

Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, a well-known advocate for early learning, says that "skill begets skill." So when a child who's benefitted from early education knows how to open a book and turn a page, someone can teach them to read. But in classrooms across our country, some children are still learning to hold a pencil when their peers are already spelling out their own names.

That has serious implications for our state and our country, but we can change the course of our children's future by investing in them now.


Patty Murray is the senior U.S. senator from Washington state. She is chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and an original co-sponsor of the Strong Start for America’s Children Act.