obamab_preschoolDuring last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama became the first president to propose what advocates, economists, and early care professionals have been saying for decades: Make high-quality preschool available to every child in America!

In California, about half of low-income 3- and 4-year-olds do not attend preschool, and even fewer attend high-quality preschool. As the President said, “for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.”

But it isn’t just about access. It’s about quality. To get the great return on investment that is so widely cited – one dollar invested in early education saves $7 later on – children must receive high-quality preschool.  And that’s where we come in.

For over a decade, First 5 Contra Costa has invested in developing the infrastructure for improving the quality of the county’s child care and preschool programs, particularly in low-income communities.

Together with our partners the Contra Costa Child Care Council, Head Start, Contra Costa County Office of Education, and the county’s three community colleges, we’ve been planning for universal preschool since 2007, including implementing a pilot preschool scholarship program.

The programs we’ve funded have helped thousands of child care providers and preschool teachers get advanced training and education in child development. They’ve helped over 100 child care programs to improve quality to meet national standards.  Just in the last year, our quality improvement efforts reached providers in 70% of all licensed child care sites in Contra Costa County.

Soon, with funding from a federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant, we will create a system to rate and improve the quality of child care for all children, based on objective, research-based standards.  The pilot for this system is underway.

The details of the President’s plan aren’t yet clear. If it is modeled after a universal preschool plan released last week by the Center for American Progress, it would cost billions. Many will say we can’t afford it. But with all we know about child development, we simply can’t afford to wait any longer.

President Obama said it best, “let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.”

So let’s do it. We’re ready.

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