2014 is undoubtedly “the year of the child”….FINALLY!

In his 2014 State of the Union Address, President Obama called upon Congress to invest in early childhood education, calling it “one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life”.

Just days after his call-to-action, Connecticut legislators were already heeding his call, introducing two bills, the Total Learning Act and the Supporting Early Learning Act, designed to expand access to and improve the quality of early education programs here in Connecticut.

This week the Connecticut General Assembly’s Education Committee held a public hearing on various bills, including one that codifies the CT Office of Early Childhood and another that expands access to early childhood education.

As our state and our nation become increasingly aware of the lifelong benefits to investing in early childhood, now is the time to take action.

Early childhood education reform is critical to the success of the kindergarten through 12th-grade educational system, and it is the surest way to guarantee academic success for our children. University of Chicago Economics Professor James Heckman, a Nobel Prize Winner, has proven the economic and social gains achieved by investing in early childhood. According to his research, the highest rate of return for every dollar invested in education comes when investing in birth-to-age-3 education. This rate of return gradually diminishes with each advancing age bracket, with the lowest rate of return on educational investments found in post-high school training.

However, as a country we spend the fewest dollars per capita on early childhood education of any developed nation. We do so at our own peril, even with evidence to support that sending a child to kindergarten unready to learn is an academic life sentence for failure. This misplaced investment is particularly embarrassing since, according to the 2013 Nation’s Report Card of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, Connecticut still has the largest achievement gap in the country, compared to our scores from 2011. The gap begins in infancy, it is amplified as the child becomes a toddler, widening as the child begins preschool and is solidified by kindergarten.

The bottom line is that Connecticut needs an infrastructure built to support early learning. Failing to build one will lock us into a perpetual game of “catch up” and we will continue to struggle as we attempt to fix the learning deficits of children who arrive at kindergarten unprepared to succeed. We know first-hand that a rich curriculum with hands-on learning, parent engagement and attention to Emotional Intelligence are essential to a child’s development and we are committed to upholding a standard of excellence for our state, but most importantly for our children.

We have an entire population of residents, not just children but their parents and educators alike, who are eager to fix our deficits and we must rely on our representatives to be our voice. We are calling on Congress and our Connecticut legislators to take action, to pass these bills into law and, finally and truly make this “the year of the child”.