Armando L. Sanchez / for NBC News
A top-notch pre-school in Chicago offers Mesha Exum and her two sons a bridge to a better life.
By Sara Neufeld, The Hechinger Report
CHICAGO––Mesha Exum wonders how her life would have turned out without a stroke of good luck 11 years ago.
She was 16 with an infant son and thought she would have to drop out of school after finding baby Adonis wet, screaming and unattended at the end of his first day of day care. But a few months later, thanks to a referral from a childbirth support program she’d participated in, Exum landed a coveted spot for her son at Educare, an extended-day, year-round preschool that accepts children as young as six weeks and keeps them until kindergarten.
In retrospect, it was like winning the early childhood education lottery.
As President Obama pushes for a major national investment in the littlest learners, a glimpse into the power of preschool sits less than a five-minute drive from his Hyde Park home.
Obama’s $75 billion proposal for universal preschool for 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families has been viewed as a political long shot: The funding would come from an increase in tobacco taxes, and preschools have been hard hit by the federal sequestration, indicating legislators’ willingness to cut rather than invest in early childhood education.
Then on Nov. 13, a bipartisan coalition in Congress introduced legislation that would improve access to early learning programs and boost program quality. Not only would states be able to apply for money to expand pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds, they could receive support for earlier interventions like some seen at Educare, the flagship in a national network of 19 schools.
Funding details have yet to be worked out, and if passed, the legislation may ultimately represent a smaller investment than Obama originally sought. But at a time when it’s hard getting Congress to agree on anything, educators and advocates are cautiously hopeful that reforms they view as common sense may finally get their day in the spotlight.
“It’s truly historic legislation,” said Diana Rauner, president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, which runs the Educare network.
This story was originally published on Sat Nov 23, 2013 4:50 AM EST