There are few things more satisfying and enjoyable than watching toddlers explore their surroundings for the first time and learn something new at every turn. Like so many parents, I watched my children develop in those early years, and I wanted them to have every opportunity possible to succeed in school and life.
During those early formative years, children develop the crucial academic, physical, and social skills that will help to determine their future, and their young bodies and minds must be nurtured.
For decades, we have known that public investments in early education and childhood development programs, as well as health and nutrition services for young children, pay huge dividends further down the road.
Studies show that children from disadvantaged backgrounds who are given the opportunity to participate in early childhood education programs will score better on standardized tests, and have higher rates of high school graduation and lower rates of incarceration for criminal behavior. As well, among such children, there are fewer incidents of teen pregnancy, longer marriages, and much higher employment rates, all of which benefit our State and Nation.
As a member of the Congressional Rural Education Caucus, I have long emphasized the importance of early childhood development programs such as Head Start and Early Head Start, along with childcare and early learning initiatives. I strongly believe that Federal investments in such programs help to set kids on the right track early.
West Virginia is blessed to have so many local community programs geared toward early education and child development, along with caring educators and parents to run them and positively affect the lives of our children.
I am fighting hard for our State’s young children and their families who depend on these programs and the Federal investments that keep them going. And it is a quite a fight in this Congress – with some determined to roll back investments that will undoubtedly leave our children at a disadvantage when it comes to finding long-term academic success and a well-paying job.
In the recent budget passed by the House of Representatives, which I adamantly opposed and voted against, across-the-board cuts in Federal investment, known as sequestration, threaten to take away hundreds of millions of dollars from Head Start, potentially disrupting services and forcing the cancelation of programs, the closing of centers, and the laying off of workers.
While finding ways to reduce our Nation’s deficits, and I have voted for some painful spending cuts to make that happen, we also must identify ways to make investments in critical programs like early childhood education, especially when investments in early education today can yield budgetary savings and enormous benefits for our State and Nation in the future.
Giving our young people the opportunity to achieve their goals and succeed in life is a moral responsibility, and that includes making smart investments in quality programs for those who are willing to work for their achievements.
The future success of our children rests on the foundation of a good education and healthy environment that begins at an early age. By investing in early childhood education programs, we are ensuring that young children, regardless of economic circumstances, have an opportunity to reach their full potential.
(Editor’s note: U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) represents West Virginia’s 3rd District.)