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Pre-School Care Focus of Hearing

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held a March 27 hearing to discuss early education and child care for children in the pre-kindergarten age group.

Chair James Jeffords (R-VT) noted that “early education and child care have developed along separate tracks in the United States,” while many other nations have integrated, publicly-funded systems. “There is no question that America lags far behind all other industrialized nations in the treatment and provision of early education and child care for pre-school-aged children,” Sen. Jeffords said, adding: “Even the most cursory glance at the research leaves little doubt that the U.S. does not measure up.”

Kathi Apgar of the Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children, who is also an experienced teacher, told the committee that for K-12 public education, there is a “clear priority set on providing all children with equal educational opportunity.” However, she said, “That is far from the case in early care and education, where it is more apparent that if you have money, only then can you provide high-quality care for your young child.”

Ms. Apgar offered several suggestions for improving the American pre-school child care system, stating that “the child care crisis…will only be resolved when child care is no longer viewed as a mother’s problem.” She added that the federal government should consider the effects of “forcing welfare parents into the workplace without expanding quality child care capacity to guarantee placement for the children of the newly employed.”

Several witnesses provided comparisons between the American pre-school care system and those of other countries. Sheila Kamerman of Columbia University Institute for Child and Family Policy said that throughout Europe, there is a “growing consensus…that care and education are inseparable in programs for pre-school-aged children.” In most European countries, she said, “there is strong conviction regarding the value of these programs that should be available to all children, free of charge. The key issue for the future, in most countries with this model, is increasing the availability of supplementary services to meet the needs of employed parents.”

Patricia Olmsted of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation described her organization’s 15-nation study of early childhood programs, which involves six countries in Western Europe, three countries in Eastern Europe, four Asian countries, Nigeria, and the United States. In all of the other countries in the study, she said, “there is a high degree of government sponsorship of early childhood settings.” According to Ms. Olmsted, “Even where the government does not directly sponsor programs, government agencies can still be involved in such program areas as teacher training.” In terms of teachers and child care personnel, she said, “The U.S. is found lacking compared to settings in other countries.”

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