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High quality early learning as a legal right

In a recent post in the Huffington Post, Education Law Center Executive Director David Sciarra called for “states to expand the legal right to education to include quality early education for all 3- and 4-year-old children, as well as full-day kindergarten” and “an entirely new federal policy on early education, focused on encouraging states to build coordinated and comprehensive delivery systems….”

Sciarra’s calls coincide with the release of the 2011 State of Preschool Yearbook which found that, despite data that shows that investment in early learning has some of the best educational returns, many states have reduced preschool funding, access and quality for the nation’s 3-and 4-year-old children.

Recent court cases, Sciarra points out, have determined that access to early learning is essentially a right. He points to a specific case in New Jersey that is more than a decade old, in which the NJ Supreme Court directed the state to provide “well planned, high quality” preschool to all 3- and 4-year old children in poor communities. Over 45,000 children are now enrolled in Head Start, child care provider and public school classrooms, funded through the State K-12 school finance formula, staffed by certified teachers delivering a developmentally appropriate educational program. The NJ pre-K curriculum is aligned to the state’s K-12 academic standards. According to Sciarra, while lawmakers have delayed an expansion of the program statewide, the rulings have ensured adequate and stable funding.

Read Sciarra’s full piece here.

Read the 2011 State of Preschool Yearbook here and Washington state’s State of Preschool Yearbook here (PDF).

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