After years of attempting to rewrite the 2002 No Child Left Behind education law, Congress is now on the verge of approving a new framework. On November 19, Democrats and Republicans from both houses voted favorably (39-1) in a conference committee to authorize a new approach. It merges two different education bills that cleared the House and Senate in July, paving the way for a full vote that is expected in early December.
Some elements of the new measure have gained the lion’s share of public and media attention – including standardized testing and the federal role in education. But it also includes investments for an area that is on the radar of community leaders in North Texas: early-childhood education. The bill features early learning grants that would expand access to preschool programs.
Why is this portion of the measure so important? The first years of a child’s life shape future learning, behaviors and health. Without basic social, emotional, early literacy and critical thinking skills, kindergarten children fall behind and never catch up. Over time, as students become discouraged, require additional resources or drop out of school altogether, the financial costs escalate. According to Nobel Laureate James Heckman, a $1 investment in early education today produces a $7 return on investment over the long-term by saving costs in remedial education, welfare and the criminal justice system.
In Tarrant County, leaders across a variety of sectors have rallied behind the idea that now is the time to develop our most important asset – young children. The alliance known as Educational Alignment for Young Children, which Community Foundation of North Texas champions, has recently gained some notable momentum.
The Fort Worth City Council recently adopted early childhood education as its fourth area of priority focus. And on November 19, National League of Cities invited a local delegation of panelists to speak at its National Briefing on Educational Alignment for Young Children. Local representatives discussed Fort Worth’s efforts at impacting early education through access and quality programming. Rose Bradshaw, Executive Vice President of the Community Foundation, was accompanied by Mayor Betsy Price and Kara Waddell, CEO of Child Care Associates.
Also on November 19, local organizations convened more than 100 community leaders at an event called Raising of Fort Worth. Speakers included Community Foundation CEO Nancy Jones, and FWISD Board President Jacinto Ramos. Attendees worked to create action plans that will improve access to quality early education in Fort Worth. Partners in the event included Educational Alignment for Young Children, Community Foundation of North Texas, the Miles Foundation, Camp Fire First Texas, Child Care Associates, First3Years, Lena Pope, the Parenting Center, Rainwater Charitable Foundation and United Way of Tarrant County.
Read more about Raising of Fort Worth and the Tarrant County groups banding together to boost early childhood education in this Star-Telegram article.