Recently, Joan Lombardi spoke at a meeting at the Center for Children’s Initiatives on the state of early childhood. Joan was the first commissioner of the Child Care Bureau in the federal government, served in the Clinton and Obama Administrations, and has been an advisor to the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, offering support to states and other countries on early childhood. In New York City this week, Joan expressed her gratitude for what Mayor De Blasio has done by focusing on pre-K. The rest of the country is talking about his bold moves and it is catalyzing other mayors to do the same. You can see in the chart below from a recent Gallup poll that Americans chose “access to high-quality preschool” as the third most important legislative priority for the U.S. Congress. (Where two-thirds of all Americans find preschool an important issue, the figure is 83 percent for Democrats and 46 percent for Republicans.)
This is all good, but it’s not enough. As Joan Lombardi emphasized, starting at 4 is too late. A full day of pre-K is not the full day that working parents need. She is also concerned that the focus on pre-K gets us away from comprehensive services. She believes we need a new vision that addresses “pre-natal to 8 that includes the family.” Her vision combines pre-K, 0-3 initiatives and community schools. And she agrees that community-wide initiatives, rather than programmatic initiatives are the best way to address the complex needs of children 0 to 8 and engage all segments of the community to play a role in the solutions young children and their families need.
Let’s revel in new funds for pre-K, but let’s not abandon the broader vision that addresses the whole child in the context of their learning environments at home, in child care programs, in schools and in the community.