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Congress must invest in early education

Allentown Pre-K students spend summer in school

Families across Maryland come in all sizes and from different backgrounds, but there is one common issue linking all of us: securing access to affordable, high-quality child care and early learning programs.

As both a parent and an educator, I cannot stress enough the importance of investing in our children’s growth and development. I’ve seen the positive impact produced by high-quality care and education for my own family and countless others. But the evidence isn’t just anecdotal; numerous studies have proven that high-quality early childhood education generates long-term benefits for children’s cognitive, behavioral and emotional growth.

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Maryland’s children and our communities stand to gain significant benefits from robust investments in early childhood education. Even as babies, our little ones are developing the social and emotional skills that will determine their future social capabilities. From an education standpoint, high-quality early childhood education is critical to best-position children for success in their future academic endeavors; these programs have been shown to increase high school graduation rates by 14%. Economically speaking, early childhood education is imperative. Research has found that child care generates $79,000 in additional lifetime earnings for working mothers.

Pre-K student August Green uses a white board to identify letters in his classroom. Principal Amanda Rice is sitting in background with students.
Pre-K student August Green uses a white board to identify letters in his classroom. Principal Amanda Rice is sitting in background with students. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

Elected officials in Maryland and across the country recognize the benefits of investing in high-quality early childhood education. Thankfully, these lawmakers have also demonstrated a commitment to minimizing the obstacles many families face in unlocking the benefits of early childhood programs. That’s why, in March of 2018, a bipartisan majority in Congress passed a historic two-year funding increase to the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program, which enables states to help low-income families access high-quality child care. That support is particularly vital for our nation’s working families, who lose an estimated total of $8.3 billion in annual wages due to a lack of access to affordable child care. This congressional funding increase has helped child care centers across Maryland implement quality improvement standards previously enacted by Congress in 2014.

As a parent and educator, I am always thrilled to learn when Congress is allocating resources to measures that enhance both the safety and effectiveness of programs supporting children’s development. I’m especially grateful to Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin for their support of the bill that made this investment possible.

Allentown Pre-K students spend summer in school

Though Congress has made strides in growing our nation’s investment in young children and their families, there is more work to be done. Too many eligible families, both in Maryland and across the country, are still struggling to access high-quality care. Expanding access to these programs will position even more children for success and enable their parents to thrive at work with the peace of mind that their children are in capable hands. Fortunately, multiple members of Congress from Maryland, including Reps. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Anthony Brown, David Trone and Jamie Raskin, as well as Senator Cardin, have indicated their desire to increase CCDBG funding during the upcoming budget process by signing onto “Dear Colleague” letters in support of the program.

In the weeks ahead, Congress will be determining funding for a slew of federal programs in their extensive appropriations process. Throughout this process, I hope that elected officials on both sides of the aisle continue to build on their previous investments in CCDBG and other early childhood education initiatives. After all, these investments pay off — for children, families and communities across our state and the rest of the country.

Christina Lopez (christina.lopez@mdaeyc.org) is president of the Maryland Association for the Education of Young Children.

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