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A Bipartisan Bill for Babies

PHOTO: A bipartisan bill labeled the "Strong Start for America's Children" Act is expected to be introduced in Congress today, calling for an investment in early learning. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
PHOTO: A bipartisan bill labeled the "Strong Start for America's Children" Act is expected to be introduced in Congress today, calling for an investment in early learning. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
November 13, 2013

NEW YORK - The "Strong Start for America's Children" Act is expected to be introduced in Congress today, calling for an investment in early learning. It's aimed at implementing President Obama's call for universal pre-kindergarten, among other things.

Rep. John Hanna, a Republican whose district includes Utica and Binghamton, is a co-sponsor, along with Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. Outgoing Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, backs the bill in the Senate.

Mathew Melmed, executive director of the national organization "Zero To Three" said this is a priority on which both sides of the aisle can agree.

"This is not a partisan issue," he said. "This is a smart, common-sense investment - and because learning begins at birth, our public investments have to start there, too."

The bill would create a new federal-state formula for grants to fund the expansion of preschool for 4-year-olds from low-income households. In polarized Washington, however, critics already are saying it is laden with mandates that states don't need and won't solve the problems it's intended to.

Janet Wallerstein, executive director of the Child Care Council of Suffolk, welcomes any initiative aimed at better learning and care of toddlers and infants.

"You know, it's essential," she said. "If we're going to have a humanistic society that really cares for its people, this is a no-brainer."

Obama made pre-K funding a priority in his State of the Union address and in his 2014 budget, currently stalled. Melmed said he hopes for wide agreement on this measure.

"The president put early learning on the map," he said. "He articulated why it was important, and what we're seeing now is a bipartisan response being promoted within the House and Senate, by the virtue of the introduction of this bill."

Melmed said the centerpiece is the new federal-state pre-kindergarten program, "which is really aimed at trying to ensure that as many children who are from low- and moderate-income families have the opportunity to participate in 4-year-old pre-kindergarten programs."

The bill also would raise the qualifications needed to be a preschool classroom teacher.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY