Today, 72 percent of 3-year-olds and 86 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in classrooms across the District. By comparison, nationally only 5 percent of 3-year-olds and 32 percent of 4-year-olds attend a government-funded prekindergarten program.
It is, therefore, no wonder that Arne Duncan, who served as secretary of education under then-President Barack Obama, said in 2014, “D.C. knocked the ball out of the park. They improved more than anyone else.” Duncan cited “a huge focus on early-childhood education” as one of the primary catalysts for rising test scores and progress closing the achievement gap.
Five years later, the District is still knocking it out of the park. On Oct. 30, the 2019 results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were released. As reported by The Post, “D.C. students made some of the country’s biggest gains in reading and math this year.” The NAEP evaluates fourth- and eighth-grade students.
When we take a closer look at the students whose performance was measured by the latest NAEP, we see the District’s eighth-grade class for whom universal pre-K was available from the beginning of their education experience.
How did they fare? Our eighth-graders were the only group of students across the country to show a significant improvement in reading. Their math scores are on the rise, too. Equally important is the continued success we’ve had in closing the achievement gap.
All the above would not be possible without universal pre-K. Study after study shows that children who attend pre-K achieve better educational results.
The District now has the opportunity to expand on universal pre-K and begin preparing our youngest residents for education.
The education component will ease the burden of the staggering costs families pay for child care and expand eligibility for subsidies so that no District family is paying more than 10 percent of its income on child care. The result will be more children in early-learning and child-care programs, especially many from at-risk families, and increased compensation for teachers, many of whom make just above minimum wage.
The council unanimously approved my legislation, and the mayor signed it into law in 2018.
Today, though much of the legislation still needs funding, the District has the opportunity to double down on its already groundbreaking pre-K program.
A robust birth-to-3 program will put children on a path to succeed as students. It also will be of assistance to many of the District’s families with the greatest needs.
The District has the money to fund the cost of the birth-to-3 legislation over the next six years; it is simply a matter of my fellow council members and the mayor making this a top priority. As mayor, I made universal prekindergarten a priority, and now our city and our children are reaping the benefits.
The District will similarly reap the long-term benefits of investing in birth-to-3 through improved educational outcomes, lower truancy and juvenile crime, increased job opportunities for parents and an overall reduction in poverty.
For me, educating and empowering our children to succeed are always a top priority. We must continue to push forward as the nation’s unquestioned leader in early-childhood education.