Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children
Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

“Congress is often compared to pre-K, which seems defamatory of small children,” Nicholas Kristof wrote in his New York Times column last month, explaining the huge potential of preschool.

“But the similarities also offer hope,” Kristof continued, “because an initiative that should be on the top of the national agenda has less to do with the sequester than with the A.B.C.’s and Big Bird.”

Why preschool? Kristof said it’s because: “Growing mountains of research suggest that the best way to address American economic inequality, poverty and crime is — you guessed it! — early education programs, including coaching of parents who want help. It’s not a magic wand, but it’s the best tool we have to break cycles of poverty.”

Kristof pointed to President Obama’s proposal for a national expansion of preschool. He also highlighted cities and states that are moving ahead on their own by proposing, creating and/or expanding their own early education programs.

Among these efforts is a ballot initiative in Colorado that would raise $950 million for education, including “programs such as expanded full-day kindergarten and half-day preschool, while also targeting money for at-risk students and English-language learners,” according to the Denver Post.

Kristof also spoke to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who pointed to “a magical opportunity” to establish a national early education program. Duncan says he thinks members of Congress will introduce a bipartisan bill for such a plan this year.

“When you think how you make change for the next 30 years, this is arguably at the top of my list,” Duncan said, adding, “It can literally transform the life chances of children, and strengthen families in important ways.”

Kristof pointed to the recent Stanford University study, which found that achievement gaps show up in children who are only 18 months old. Kristof also praised home visiting programs that help adults improve their parenting skills.

“Look, we’ll have to confront the pathologies of poverty at some point,” Kristof wrote. “We can deal with them cheaply at the front end, in infancy. Or we can wait and jail a troubled adolescent at the tail end. To some extent, we face a choice between investing in preschools or in prisons.

“We just might have a rare chance in the next couple of months to take steps toward such a landmark early education program in America. But children can’t vote, and they have no highly paid lobbyists — so it’ll happen only if we the public speak up.”

Be sure to read the full Kristof column and share it on social media.