According to the first annual Children’s Report Card, released by First Focus and Save the Children, the country earned an overall lackluster grade of C minus on several domains of a child’s life. The five categories measured in the report card include economic security, early childhood, K-12 education, permanence and stability and health and safety. The full report can be found here.

The report card, Commissioned by former Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Senator Robert Casey (D-PA), points out that 22 percent of American children live in poverty and they lag behind international students in reading and math proficiency at all grade levels. In addition, in the 2010–2011 school year, 1.1 million children out of the 49.5 million enrolled in the public school system were identified as homeless by the U.S. Department of Education.

Of note, the early learning programs earned a C plus grade overall. State investments in early education were reduced by $60 million in 2010-2011, the second year in a row of funding cuts. Currently 28 percent of 4-year-olds and only 4 percent of 3-year-olds were enrolled in state funded pre-kindergarten programs. In 2010, only 4.5 percent of eligible infants and toddlers under age 3 were enrolled in Early Head Start and only 29 percent of eligible children age 3–5 were enrolled in Head Start.

Early learning programs, especially successful Pre-K programs that effectively interface with comprehensive Pre-K-3 systems, are an essential investment to ensure that children at-risk of beginning formal education behind their peers, particularly low-income children, have a chance to begin school on equal footing. 

Principals have a unique understanding of the consequences that occur when children are not fully prepared to enter the school building. However, principal preparation programs and school systems lack sufficient training and professional learning opportunities to help principals design and lead quality early childhood programs. 

This is why NAESP supports the Continuum of Learning Act, which was introduced in Congress by Senator Casey and Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI). The Continuum of Learning Act is based on the NAESP landmark publication, Leading Early Childhood Learning Communities, which outlines standards and guidance for principals in designing aligned Pre-K-3 systems and implementing high-quality early childhood programs. The standards focus on helping principals rethink the connection between early childhood centers and elementary schools.

The release of this report card came just weeks before the November elections, and parents and concerned Americans are urged to stand up for children -- who are too young to fully participate in the election process -- by voting for political candidates that will put children first and make them a legislative priority. The report card states that improving the economy repeatedly polls as the main concern for voters in the current election cycle, but due to the tremendous cost of caring for poor kids, the economy can only improve when the number of U.S. children living in poverty is reduced.

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