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Yarmuth Calls on Congress to Expand Early Childhood Education

LOUISVILLE – Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-3) is calling on Congress to expand access to high-quality early childhood education for children of low-income Louisville families.

Yarmuth toured the George Unseld Early Childhood Learning Center on Monday, meeting with children, educators, and staff. He was joined by Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Donna Hargens.

After the tour, Yarmuth urged his colleagues in Congress to support the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, which would establish an innovative federal-state partnership to expand and improve early learning for children from birth to age 5.

“When children have access to high-quality preschool, our entire community benefits,” said Yarmuth, who is a cosponsor of the legislation. “With nearly half of Jefferson County children not prepared to enter kindergarten, Congress should be investing in these kids and their futures – not cutting early childhood education resources.

The Unseld Center educates nearly 400 Early Childhood students in 19 preschool and Head Start classrooms. It is among 68 JCPS Early Childhood Program locations serving more than 4,800 students.

“JCPS and the Jefferson County Board of Education know the value of Early Childhood programs and have expanded opportunities for children in our community,” said Dr. Hargens. “Kindergarten preparedness is a priority in our district, and we encourage all families to be an active part of their child’s development.”

Kindergarten readiness includes the ability to ask basic questions and count small numbers of objects, self-help such as eating with utensils, and speaking in short sentences. (Click here for the full list from JCPS.)

According to the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, more than 47 percent of Jefferson County children entering kindergarten this year failed to meet readiness benchmarks. Quality preschool programs are proven to increase school preparedness and outcomes, lead to higher earnings, and result in lower crime and delinquency rates. In addition, research demonstrates that children in a literacy-rich environment at an early age are more likely to succeed in high school, college, and their careers.

More than half of all funding for Early Childhood Education in Jefferson County comes from federal programs, including Head Start and Early Head Start. This school year, Jefferson County Public Schools received $26 million in federal investments supporting Early Childhood Education programs.

Federal investments support 128 Early Childhood classrooms and nearly 2,000 students in Jefferson County.

Last year, the across-the-board spending reductions known as sequestration led to the largest cut to Head Start funding in its history. As a result, tens of thousands of children from low-income families were denied a spot in Head Start classrooms across the country.

In Jefferson County, sequestration cost Head Start and Early Head Start programs nearly $767,000, resulting in four closed classrooms. Congress temporarily halted sequestration in December, allowing JCPS to resume most pre-sequestration operations in both programs for this year. These cuts are scheduled to resume in October 2015 if Congress does not act.

The Strong Start for America’s Children Act (H.R. 3461) would expand access to and improve outcomes for preschool. The bill provides:

·         Expanded access for 4-year-olds through new federal funding with a state match;

·         New Head Start and Early Head Start partnerships for infants and toddlers through age 3;

·         Public-private partnerships to raise quality among all-day child care programs for infants and toddlers;

·         And additional child care training, professional development, and workforce incentives to ensure teacher quality;

The legislation is part of the Middle Class Jumpstart, a 100-day legislative action plan created by Yarmuth and House Democrats to refocus Congress on helping working families and rebuilding the middle-class economy.