Education International
Education International

USA: Education unions welcome Obama’s proposals on ECE

published 28 February 2013 updated 6 March 2013

EI’s national affiliates, The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), have welcomed President Obama’s proposal to dramatically increase access to early childhood education (ECE) for American students.

During his State of the Union address on 12 February, President Obama presented his Plan for Early Education for all Americans.

“In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children […] studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own,” he said. “We know this works. So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.”

Early years are critical

Obama acknowledged that the years at the beginning of a child’s life are critical for building the early foundation needed for success later in school and in life. Leading economists, he stressed, agree that high-quality early learning programmes can help level the playing field for children from lower-income families on vocabulary, social and emotional development, while helping students to stay on track and stay engaged in the early elementary grades.

He insisted: “Children who attend these programmes are more likely to do well in school, find good jobs, and succeed in their careers than those who don’t. And research has shown that taxpayers receive a high average return on investments in high-quality early childhood education, with savings in areas like improved educational outcomes, increased labour productivity, and a reduction in crime.”

New investment

In his State of the Union address, Obama also called on Congress to expand access to high-quality preschool to every child in America.  As part of that effort, the President will propose a series of new investments that will establish a continuum of high-quality early learning for a child – beginning at birth and continuing to age five.

The US President has also committed to a comprehensive early learning agenda for America’s children that begins at birth and provides the support and services needed to set them on a path of success in school and in life.

NEA and AFT: Support for Obama’s proposals

“Investing in early childhood education is among the best investments we can make in a young child’s life,” stated AFT President Randi Weingarten in reaction to President Obama’s ECE proposals.

She highlighted that the President’s early childhood proposals represent a giant leap forward in guaranteeing every child and family in America access to affordable, high-quality ECE programmes.

“President Obama’s plan addresses both the quality of the programmes and the quantity—ensuring we serve virtually all kids,” she noted. “It injects additional funding while also ensuring small classes, wraparound services, adequate compensation to treat early childhood educators like the professionals they are, and creation of a rich curriculum.

Weingarten added that AFT hopes that others do not misinterpret the Obama’s proposals: “The early childhood programmes the President highlighted in his State of the Union address—those in Oklahoma City and Washington, D.C.—are robust and age appropriate. And they certainly are not focused on testing.”

NEA President and EI Vice-President Dennis Van Roekel welcomed the fact that Obama’s speech put emphasis on pressing issues facing students, educators and schools.

“President Barack Obama set a strong tone and outlined a common-sense agenda to strengthen the middle class, address issues facing working Americans, and move this country forward with an economy that works for everyone,” he said. “We agree with the President that making education and students a priority is an economic imperative. The President knows that the road to economic prosperity and helping those aspiring to join the middle class runs directly through our nation’s public schools.”

He added: “Investing in early childhood education, making college more affordable and supporting career pathways in community colleges are essential parts of our nation’s unbending commitment to educational excellence. Now is the time to start making smart investments that will benefit students and the nation in the future.”

He further echoed Obama’s urgent call to keep students and campuses safer. Educators and the nation have grieved too long and too often—for the children killed, their families and the heroic educators who gave their lives trying to protect their students, he condemned.

EI: US Developments consistent with EI Education Policy Paper and ECE Strategy

EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen said that EI believes that early childhood education is of great value to all children and should be available to all. It provides a sound basis for learning and helps to develop skills, knowledge, personal competencies and confidence and a sense of social responsibility. By providing a protected environment for young children, it also helps to prevent child labour.”

He pointed out that the EI Education Policy Paper and the ECE Strategy, both adopted by the 6th World Congress of EI in 2011, re-assert EI’s policy position that quality education, including ECE, is a human right and a public good which should be available and accessible to all - including girls and boys from poor families, indigenous children, children of ethnic minorities and migrant children.

In order for ECE to be accessible to the largest possible number of children, van Leeuwen insisted, it needs to be organised within the framework of a free publicly funded education service.

Click here to read the AFT blog posting on the Education Week website that explores some key issues of ECE expansion in the US; and here to read the NEA comments on the early education initiative.