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Thank you, Nancy for that kind introduction. I want to thank Don Higgins for his leadership of the Center. And I especially want to thank Jessica for sharing your example with us today.

The challenge you face is all too common, and today we’ve come together to help.

Right now in Congress, there are big debates over the future of Head Start and child care. Whatever is decided in Washington, D.C. will have an impact on children and families here in Washington state, so I want to share the latest with you today.

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to look at child care from several angles – as a parent, a pre-school teacher, and a United States Senator.

As a parent, I know that it’s hard to focus on your job if you’re worried about where your kids are and what they’re doing. When parents have the peace of mind that their kids are in good hands, they’re more successful at work and that helps businesses of all kinds.

As a pre-school teacher, I’ve seen firsthand just how important those early years are to a child’s development. I remember children arriving for the first day of school in my pre-school class. Almost immediately, I could tell – which children had been in a high-quality preschool or child care program, and which children had not. Many of the kids who were not in quality programs were already behind their peers.

We cannot let another generation start out behind and spend a lifetime struggling to catch up.

Today -- as a United States Senator – I’ve worked to boost our investment in early childhood education and quality child care. But I’ve got to tell you that I’m shocked by what I see happening to Head Start and Child Care in Congress these days.

To me, there is no question that quality, affordable child care is an investment that pays real dividends for families, for children, for businesses and for communities. No one has to persuade me about the importance of early childhood development, or the challenges so many parents are facing in finding affordable, quality child care. But unfortunately, not everyone in Washington, D.C. views child care the way we do. That may be hard to believe – so I want to share with you some of the things that I hear in the United States Senate.

I’ve heard some Republicans say that we do not need to increase our investment in child care because the welfare rolls have dropped. That completely misses the point. It’s not only welfare families that need affordable child care. Millions of America’s working families can’t find affordable, decent child care.

A few months ago, at a hearing in the Senate, a Republican Senator warned against making child care an entitlement. He said, "Making people struggle a little bit is not necessarily the worst thing." Maybe he doesn’t realize that taking your kids to work with you is not just a “little struggle” – it’s enough to get you fired. Maybe he doesn’t realize that when kids enter school without good preparation, they’re going to struggle – not just a little – but for the rest of their lives. So as families face these challenges, the leadership in Congress is not even seeing the same reality that families are facing.

And let’s not forget that many states are facing massive deficits and are not in a position to make up for cuts at the federal level. We’ve got our work cut out for us if we’re going to persuade the White House and Congress that child care and early learning are important.

This year we are updating the federal law that governs Head Start and the federal law the supports child care.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Head Start centers like the one here, and I can tell you that everywhere I go I see the same thing – They’re not just teaching kids – They’re changing lives.

Head Start works because of the commitment to local communities and the strong standards that ensure children are learning.

Unfortunately, those are the things that are under attack in the Head Start bill that was passed by Republicans in the House of Representatives.

There are three problems with the Republican bill. First it turns Head Start into a block grant. That eliminates the standards that make it successful. It also opens the doors for governors to spend the money elsewhere – especially since many states are facing huge deficits. And even the White House admitted -- when I asked at hearing -- that it has no idea whether state governments can do a better job with Head Start than we’re doing today.

The House bill also opens the door to discrimination in hiring. Faith-based organizations have long been a pillar of Head Start. They have not needed to discriminate to do that, and we shouldn’t open the door to discrimination today.

And finally, the Republican plan will not serve any additional children. No additional children in regular Head Start. No additional children in Early Head Start.

We are not reaching all the kids we need to reach now. What’s the sense in changing the program only to still leave kids out?

So we’ve got a Republican bill that won’t help any more kids, that drops the performance standards -- and even it’s supporters admit that there’s no way to know if it will do a better job.

There’s a better approach, and it’s a bill that I’ve been working on called the Head Start Coordination and School Readiness Act. My bill strengthens the Head Start workforce. That means higher standards for Head Start teachers and the money to pay the higher salaries that Head Start teachers deserve. My bill also strengthens areas like pre-literacy and language skills.

And finally, my bill will expand Head Start to cover more kids. It will authorize the funding to cover all eligible pre-school children for Head Start, and to double the number infants and toddlers in Early Head Start.

That’s going to make a big difference because the White House proposal doesn’t even keep up with inflation. And it’s the same thing with Child Care. The House and Senate budgets freeze funding for child care subsidies. With inflation, that’s going to mean a real cut in the number of children served.

We’ve got to do better, and that’s what I’m working on.

And let me say this - when I tell you that I’ll work to protect Head Start, you can be sure that’s exactly what I’ll do in Washington, D.C. I’ve been fighting for education and child care for years, I’ve kept my word, and I’m not going to stop now.

As I close, I want to say a word about Child Care because we’re also updating the Child Care program in Congress this year. We need to provide better wages and professional development for child care providers. We need higher reimbursement rates and more support for resource and referral agencies. And we need to address the needs of infants and toddlers -- as well as children with disabilities and those who need care during non-traditional hours.

It’s going to take communities like this one – making it clear that this is a priority -- to make it happen. We’ve got our work cut out for us in Congress, but we can do it if we stand together.

So I want to thank you for providing affordable child care in the community. I’m proud to stand with you, and I’m looking forward to working with all of you for our children and our families.