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21 WI Lawmakers Urge Congress To Increase Money For Childhood Education


Wednesday, December 11, 2013   

MADISON, Wis. - Twenty-one Wisconsin state senators and representatives have signed a letter urging the congressional budget committee to make spending on early childhood education a priority.

Sabrina Gentile, governmental relations manager of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, said there's a huge need to help low-income families.

"We can help them be prepared for kindergarten," she said. "They do well right from the start. They do well with their entire elementary school years. They're more involved. They stay out of trouble. It just saves money in the long run because we're not paying for these kids in the correctional system."

Gentile said more than 18 percent of Wisconsin children younger than age 18 currently are living in poverty, and only 61 percent of 4-year-olds in the state are enrolled in high-quality preschools. She said programs such as Head Start - which lost 900 slots earlier this year because of sequestration - are not just babysitting.

"There's a lot of learning that can be done in those early years," she said. "Parents know that. They know how smart their babies are, just their facial expressions when showing colors and stimulus, and just how it helps their brain development."

Gentile said Wisconsin has made progress in increasing access to early-childhood education, but more federal money is needed so the state doesn't lose more ground. A recent bipartisan poll indicated 70 percent of American voters support a federal plan to help states provide better early childhood education programs for children 5 years old and younger.

Gentile said any additional federal money would go to immediate use in Wisconsin.

"We would fill the Head Start slots that were cut for sequestration," she said. "We could improve the child-care development block grant and the TANF program so the state would have more money to offer to improve child-care programs and provide more services for low-income families."

The "TANF" program to which Gentile referred stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Wisconsin Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson and Rep. Paul Ryan serve on the congressional committee.

The lawmakers' letter is online at ffyf.org.

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