News Releases

PRE-K: Murray Touts New Legislation Expanding Early Childhood Education

Nov 13 2013

Pre-K bill introduced in the Senate today



(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, a former preschool teacher, spoke on the Senate floor about the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, introduced in the Senate today, which would significantly increase access to and the quality of early learning programs that start when a child is born and last until their first day of Kindergarten. This legislation authorizes a federal program that supports individual states’ efforts to educate their youngest citizens and ensures that early learning programs everywhere have quality teachers and meet high standards. It also provides states, school districts, and preschool programs the flexibility they need to meet their local children’s needs. 

“As a former preschool teacher, I’ve seen in my own classroom that when young children get the attention they need, they’re miles ahead of their peers on the path to success,” Senator Murray said.  “While other countries are investing billions in early education, we can’t allow any American children to fall behind, so I’m thrilled that members of both parties have come together to support access to quality early learning programs for every one of our kids.”

Read more about the Strong Start for America’s Children Act.

See a full list of national organizations supporting the bill.

Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks, as prepared:

“Mr. President, I come to the floor today to talk about the issue that got me into politics in the first place—early childhood education. 

“First I’d like to thank my friend and colleague, Chairman Harkin, whose leadership on this critical issue is unparalleled.

“I’d also like to thank Senators Casey and Hirono for their strong support of early childhood education. They are great partners in this work.

“Mr. President, of the five hundred and thirty five members of Congress, each of us comes to Washington, DC with our own, unique background.

“We’re also a collection of military veterans, farmers, business owners, and much more. 

“As for me, I came to Congress as a mother and pre-K teacher…

“When my children were much younger I found out their wonderful preschool program was being closed down by the state.

“So I bundled my children into the car and went off to the state capitol to explain to them why they just couldn’t cut this program.

“But when I got there the legislators told me there was nothing someone like me could do to save our preschool program.

“One legislator in particular told me I was just a mom in tennis shoes—and I had no chance of changing things.

“Well I heard what they had to say—but I didn’t listen.

“Instead, I picked up the phone and started calling other parents.

“And they called more parents from all across the state.

“We wrote letters, we held rallies, and when all was said and done, the legislature kept the funding for our preschool program in the budget.

“I went on to teach at that preschool and then to serve on my local school board.

“So, Mr. President, when I eventually came to Washington DC as a U.S. Senator, I knew firsthand that if we wanted to strengthen our economy and give our kids a brighter future, we couldn’t wait until they were teenagers or adults to invest in them. 

“I had seen in my own classroom that when young children get the attention they need, they’re miles ahead of their peers on the path to success.

“I saw that my own students who had been taught to raise their hand to ask a question, or stand in line to go to recess, were the ones prepared to tackle a full curriculum in school.

“That’s why this week, I joined a bipartisan group of colleagues to introduce legislation that will give every American child access to high quality early education.

“The Strong Start for America’s Children Act aims to significantly increase access to and the quality of early learning programs that start when a child is born and last until their first day of Kindergarten.

“This legislation authorizes a federal program that supports individual states’ efforts to educate their youngest citizens. 

“It ensures that early learning programs everywhere have quality teachers and meet high standards, but it also provides states, school districts, and preschool programs the flexibility they need to meet their local children’s needs.

“And though I approach this issue as a grandmother, a mother, and a former pre-K teacher, many of my colleagues have their own reasons to support early education.

“The former law enforcement officers, lawyers and sheriffs whom I work with know that when we invest in our children at a young age, they’re more likely to stay out of trouble and out of prison.

“The business leaders and economists know that when we spend a dollar on a child’s education in the first few years of their life, we save as much as $17 throughout their lives.

“Our military leaders tell me that 75% of our nation’s 17-24 year olds are ineligible to serve their country, often because they’re unable to pass the necessary math and reading tests.

“So it’s not only teachers who are fighting for pre-K.  It’s generals, sheriffs, and CEOs, too.

“And Mr. President, 50 years of research backs them up.

“For example, we know that eighty percent of a person’s brain development occurs before the age of five.

“But while China and India is aiming to provide 70 percent of its children with three years of preschool by 2020 and India is doing the same, we don’t have a national strategy to get the youngest Americans ready to learn.

“Nobel-prize winning economist James Heckman, a well-known advocate for early learning, says that “skill begets skill.”

“Mr. President, this summer, I traveled throughout my home state of Washington visiting early learning programs…

“And in Tacoma, I heard from a kindergarten teacher who told me that while some of her students are practicing writing their names on their work, others still need to learn how to hold a pencil.

“Those children are, even at a very early age, already playing catch-up.

“So when a child who’s benefitted from early education knows how to open a book and turn a page, someone can teach them to read. 

“But Mr. President, in classrooms across our country, some children are falling behind.

“And that gap between children who start school ready to succeed and those who don’t has serious implications for our country’s future.

“Though historically we’ve invested in education to build a path to middle class, we’re falling behind. 

“We now rank 28th globally in the proportion of 4 year olds enrolled in pre-K, and 25th in public funding for early learning.

“That cannot continue.

“So, Mr. President, in the coming weeks and months, we’ll be working to make smart investments in our education system and move this legislation forward.

“Our country is in very large part the product of decisions that were made decades ago.

“The decision to make public education a priority now will have an extraordinary impact on the next generation.

“We are choosing, every day, between being a country that is struggling to catch up or being a country that has the knowledge and the power to continue to lead.

“Thank you Mr. President, I yield the floor.”