January 29, 2015


PRE-K Act Ensures Access To High Quality Early Learning Programs

Washington, DC – Today, as she continues to lay out the markers for the 114th Congress, Senator Mazie K. Hirono introduced the Providing Resources Early for Kids (PRE-K) Act, legislation to expand access to high-quality early learning programs for children from birth to age five. The PRE-K Act helps more kids arrive at kindergarten ready to succeed by establishing a federal-state partnerships that incentivizes  states to both improve the quality of state preschool programs and expand to serve more children in need.  

“The investments we make in our youngest keiki are paid back in full by enhancing our nation’s competitiveness in our global economy,” said Senator Hirono. “Hawaii educators have told me that many kids start kindergarten already behind. Our children deserve the best chance to succeed and our educators need all the tools we can give them to put students on track to being lifelong learners. That’s why, beginning when I was Hawaii’s Lieutenant Governor 20 years ago, I have been committed to quality early learning to help kids start kindergarten ready to succeed. Where you live should not determine what chance you get in life, and this bill will ensure states like Hawaii can create effective, quality state preschool programs. This bill focuses on quality because it is what makes the biggest difference in educational outcomes. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate and moving this bill forward.”

A recent White House report summarizes what decades of research has shown: high quality early learning yields over $8 for every $1 invested, by helping kids learn to read on time, stay in school, avoid crime, get good jobs, pay taxes, and avoid other social services later in life. The PRE-K Act creates a new federal-state partnership to improve state preschool programs and expand to serve more children in need. States that already have a high-quality preschool program could get grants to improve quality and expand to serve more children. Other states with small or newer programs could apply for startup funds if they submit a plan to establish a high-quality preschool program within two years. PRE-K Act funds could help states hire and train early educators; expand preschool days and hours; or provide comprehensive services such as health screenings and meals.

Senator Hirono is a nationally recognized leader on early childhoon education has long advocated for quality early learning. As Hawaii’s Lieutenant Governor, she introduced the Pre-Plus program that provided preschool facilities on public school campuses. She first introduced the Providing Resources Early for Kids (PRE-K) Act as a U.S. House Member, and it passed the House Education and Workforce Committee on a bipartisan vote in 2008. She co-introduced the Strong Start for America’s Children Act as part of President Obama’s early learning plan in 2013. The 2014 federal spending bill included a “down payment” to fund federal Preschool Development Grants, with a similar structure as Hirono’s PRE-K Act. In December 2014, Hawaii was among 18 states to win a one-time, four-year preschool grant. Enacting the PRE-K Act would authorize longer-term funding for all states to have the opportunity to begin, strengthen, and expand their preschool systems.

The PRE-K Act was introduced with the following original cosponsors: Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

“The early years are some of the most crucial in the educational development of our children. Keeping a child on the right track and instilling a love for learning early in life can make all the difference later. We must make sure no one starts behind the curve when they enter the classroom and that’s why expanding access to these early childhood education programs should be a no-brainer,” Senator Durbin said.

“As a mother of two, I understand how important it is to make sure our children have access to a quality education,” said Senator Gillibrand. “By improving and expanding access to pre-k, we are not only investing in our children but we are also investing in our economic future. Few investments yield a better return than pre-k which gives our children the strong foundation they need to learn, succeed in the long term, and grow our economy. This initiative will help more children get access to the resources they need to start out strong, so that they can go as far as their own hard work will take them.”

“Expanding access to early childhood education helps close the achievement gap and prepare students for a lifetime of learning,” said Senator Kaine, who expanded the Virginia Preschool Initiative as Governor. “To keep our economy strong, we need a long-term plan that produces the best workforce in the world. A key step in growing our talented workforce is ensuring that all children are prepared to enter school ready to learn. Last year, I successfully urged the U.S. Department of Education to give Virginia a $17.5 million Preschool Development Grant to expand high-quality preschool programs for children from low and moderate income families. The PRE-K Act would build upon this grant, providing Virginia and the nation with opportunities to strengthen and expand our preschools.”

“Throughout our history, Wisconsin has made real investments in early childhood education because we understand that a strong start helps build a strong middle class. Our nation must make it a priority to invest in early education for all, so that the doors of opportunity are open to every child and help provide them the skills they need to realize their dreams,” said Senator Baldwin. “I’m proud to join this effort to renew our commitment to the proven foundation we know that early childhood education provides. This is a critical investment for our middle class and for our future.”

“Every child deserves the best education possible.  But in Hawai‘i and across the country, too many children are unprepared for school simply because states don't have the resources to invest in early education programs,” said Senator Schatz. “Our legislation would help states like Hawai‘i establish new, high-quality early education programs that give children a better shot at success in school and in life.”

“We cannot wait until our children are adolescents or adults to invest in their education,” Senator Brown said. “Study after study shows the importance of high-quality preschool programs in keeping kids in school, preparing them for college or careers, and setting them on a productive path in life. That’s why this bill is so important – investing in high quality early education will ensure the next generation has a head start on the path to success.”

Similar legislation is also being introduced in the House by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Mike Honda (D-CA)

“High-quality early education is essential to a student’s long-term academic success,” said Rep. Mark Pocan. “The PRE-K Act will encourage states to make critical investments in our nation’s future and provide better preschool opportunities for children. Improving educational outcomes depends on reaching children early to ensure kids are prepared to succeed.”

“The Pre-K Act makes critical investments in our nation’s early-education programs,” Rep. Mike Honda said.  “The matching grants for Pre-K programs and certification requirements for Pre-K teachers are sensible steps to improve our early education. These steps are a key component of the Equity and Excellence Commission’s recommendations for tackling the inequity problem in our schools, and I am excited to sponsor legislation that translates those recommendations into action. We need to keep working to ensure that each and every child gets an excellent education, starting as early as possible.” 

The PRE-K Act of 2015 has been endorsed by the following national and Hawaii organizations:

  • American Association of University Women (AAUW)
  • American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
  • Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)
  • Council of Administrators of Special Education - CEC
  • Early Care and Education Consortium
  • First Focus Campaign for Children
  • Good Beginnings Alliance
  • Hawaii Business Roundtable
  • HighScope Educational Research Foundation
  • Learning Disabilities Association of America
  • National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
  • National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE)
  • National Education Association (NEA)
  • National Women’s Law Center (NWLC)
  • Parents As Teachers
  • School Social Work Association of America (SSWA)