We are failing to prepare poor kids across the country for success in school, putting them at a disadvantage for the rest of their lives. The school readiness gap between children coming from low-income and moderate- to high-income households is stark. While 75% of kids from moderate- to high-income families are ready for school at age five, less than 48% of poor kids are. We can and must do better to ensure every child in every zip code has the opportunity to realize their full potential.
Based on my experience as an educator working with children and families in Harlem for the past 30 years, I believe we must take a holistic approach to prepare young people for success in school, starting at birth. It is essential to help first-time parents learn the skills they need to properly care for their babies and help their toddlers build their vocabulary. We also need to open more high-quality early education programs in distressed communities. Students who go to high-quality early education programs are less likely to require special education or repeat a grade and are more likely to graduate from high school than other children.
Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg recently outlined a comprehensive set of plans to help working families and improve child care and early childhood education across the United States. Bloomberg will give all new parents 12 weeks of paid family leave so that they can take time away from work to bond with their newborns or adopted children. He also will expand the federal government’s Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program so that more low-income families can benefit from free and voluntary home visits by trained nurses. Nurse home visits reduce maternal and child mortality rates. In addition, Bloomberg will provide grants to states to help promote language learning programs for young children that will narrow the school readiness gap.
Bloomberg will make sure working families have access to quality, affordable child care. He wants to provide more low-income families with free child care by expanding funding for Early Head Start and Head Start, with the goal of tripling the number of infants and toddlers in Early Head Start and ensuring more three- to five-year-olds who are eligible for Head Start are able to participate. Bloomberg also knows there’s a shortage of quality child care providers in distressed communities around the country. 56% of urban neighborhoods do not have enough licensed child care options. That’s why he will fund programs to help child care providers scale up their businesses in distressed communities as part of his $70 billion investment in the 100 most disadvantaged communities in America.
Under Bloomberg’s plan, every family will have access to full-day preschool for their three- and four-year-olds. Bloomberg will incentivize states to provide universal access to pre-Kindergarten. States that increase enrollment of low- to moderate-income students and enhance the quality of early childhood education programs will be rewarded. Like me, Bloomberg is deeply concerned that the U.S. government’s spending on early childhood education ranks near the bottom among developed countries. As president, he will work with Congress to ensure our government makes a much greater investment in our nation’s young people.
I worked with Bloomberg on a number of initiatives during his time as New York City’s mayor. Although we didn’t agree on every policy he pursued, I never doubted his commitment to improving our education system and creating more opportunities for all New Yorkers. After reviewing his latest plans, I’m confident Bloomberg will take the steps we need to narrow the school readiness gap across the country and set up our young people for success in the classroom and beyond.
Geoffrey Canada is the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone. He represents himself and is not representing the views of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which does not endorse any candidates for public office. He has endorsed Mike Bloomberg for president.