When I became the first early childhood educator to be named National Teacher of the Year in the program’s nearly 70-year history, I couldn’t have imagined I would be invited to the White House to be recognized by first lady Jill Biden and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. On Monday, along with other exceptional educators from across the country, I had that extraordinary honor.
As educators themselves, I know the first lady and Sec. Cardona appreciate how pre-K can transform the lives of my students and their families. They, like myself, have seen up close the difference it makes when children are educated and socialized from a young age. And this early difference has a lasting impact: By serving students in the first years of their lives, we are able to reach them when their brains are developing most rapidly, reducing the need for special education and other social services later on in life.
When the Biden-Harris administration announced universal pre-K as part of the Build Back Better plan earlier this year, millions of educators just like me applauded this much overdue investment in public education that benefits everyone — students, parents, educators, families, communities and our country.
With universal pre-K, all children — no matter where they’re from, where they live or what they look like — would have access to a quality education that lays the foundation for lifelong learning and long-term success. And it’s not just kids who will benefit. On the job, I’ve witnessed how an extra boost (through the Head Start program) changes the lives of students and their entire families, eventually reducing intergenerational poverty. But especially at this moment, after so many families have been stretched thin by the pandemic, the extended and familial impacts of universal pre-K would be felt immediately.
That’s why it’s been so frustrating to see the Build Back Better plan needlessly delayed by a political logjam in Congress. America’s children and families need support, inside the classroom and out, to thrive. The Build Back Better plan offers that support, by expanding the child tax credit, rebuilding and modernizing our crumbling schools, combating the chronic teacher shortage, providing healthy school meals and funding universal pre-K. With every day that ends without passage of these investments in safe, modern,and healthy schools, children, families and teachers continue to suffer.
I wish members of Congress could spend time with the 3- and 4-year-olds in my classroom. I wish they could see how much my students love to read books and discover new words, or dig for worms and discover new worlds. Their minds are so open to learning, and their families and educators just need a little support to nurture their curiosity and feed their dreams.
People, especially politicians, like to call our children “the future.” But if that’s true, elected officials must act like it — and act now to make sure they’re prepared for whatever comes their way next. Currently, 1.5 million 4-year-olds receive a public education, while 3.5 million are not getting the education they need and deserve. That’s 3.5 million children we aren’t doing our best for — and whom we aren’t setting up to be able to do the best for our country.
The White House hasn’t just talked about supporting students and educators — it’s taken action by proposing a once-in-a-generation investment in public education. It’s time for Congress to follow that lead by signing the president’s ambitious and transformative agenda into law. If we want to get our economy back on track, and get our labor force back to work, we need our elected officials to step up and provide the care for children that parents have been making impossible choices to secure.
Congress needs to understand that investments in universal pre-K, free school meals, rebuilding and modernizing our crumbling schools, and expanding the child tax credit aren’t partisan ideas. They’re necessary responses to urgent crises facing our nation, and they’re long overdue.
Tabatha Rosproy is a teacher working in the Olathe school district. She was honored as the 2020 National Teacher of the Year.