Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman, made a push for legislation expanding access to universal pre-K. Murray spoke of legislation she is drafting with Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Robert Casey (D-PA.), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI). The legislation is said to mirror the Administration’s Preschool for All proposal, unveiled earlier this year, which would support a federal expansion of early learning opportunities for families whose incomes are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

In a speech at the Center for American Progress, Murray stated that the details of the legislation are not flushed out, including a way to pay for the proposal, but any legislation will encompass her four stated priorities:

  1. Universal early education to all four and five year-olds;
  2. Ensuring that teachers are highly skilled;
  3. Creating strong partnerships with K-12 programs; and
  4. Ensuring families receive resources to help young students succeed.

Murray acknowledged that in today’s budget climate, where Congress has moved from one “artificial budget crisis” to the next, any bipartisan deal will be hard. She noted several Republican governors have invested limited state resources into expanding early childhood education recently, and feels that this should not be a partisan issue, yet recognized that budget realities in Washington, DC will make this proposal difficult as Congress struggles to get anything done that isn’t tied to pressing deadlines.

Instead, Murray spoke of the impact expanding early childhood education could have on the next generation of students, and stated that making this a priority is about what we want our country to look like. Congress has been working with short-term goals in mind that hamper long-term priorities and investments that strengthen our global competitiveness and help us meet the goals of the future. 

While other nations have increased investments in early childhood education, the U.S. is struggling to maintain investments in worker’s skills and knowledge. As Murray mentioned, China and India both have established national goals to increase early childhood education access and participation rates in the coming years, but the U.S. has no strategic plan laid out, even though research has shown that most brain development happens before the age of 5. Currently, 58 percent of 4 year-olds are not enrolled in a public early education program and 85 percent of 3 year-olds are not enrolled.