JEFFERSON CITY — U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., visited the state Capitol on Tuesday to promote his proposed Education Begins at Home Act.
The bill would provide $400 million over three years to help states expand access to parent education and family services through early-childhood home-visitation programs. It would provide another $100 million over three years to fund both home-visitation services for families with English-language learners and for families on military bases.
The U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services would collaborate under the bill to make grants that would in turn be allocated to states. The amount of money each state receives would be determined by the number of children 5 and under living in each state. No state, however, would get more than $20 million in a single year.
States could use the money to provide families with voluntary early-childhood home visitation, group meetings to educate parents, and training and technical assistance for visitation staff. States would also be able to provide annual health, vision, hearing and developmental screening for eligible children.
“Being a parent is hard work, and babies do not come with directions,” Bond told state representatives and senators at the Capitol. “We must help parents and give them the education and support they need to promote their young children’s healthy development and prepare them for success in school and life.”
The act was inspired by a program called Parents as Teachers, which Bond created in 1981 while Missouri governor. Parents as Teachers is an early-childhood program designed to help families from the time of pregnancy through the time their children enter kindergarten. It aims to enhance child development and school, and it is available to all families regardless of socio-economic level or location.
Bond hopes his legislation will turn it into a nationwide program; now, it operates only in some states. Since its inception, Parents as Teachers has helped more than 2 million families in the United States.
In addition to speaking to the House and Senate caucus, the senator spoke to an energized crowd of parent educators, Parents as Teachers families and school administrators. The crowd applauded every idea Bond put forth.
State Sen. Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis, and Gov. Matt Blunt also spoke in support of Bond’s proposal.
“Research has shown over and over again that when we reach children early, they are less likely to require remedial education and are less likely to be incarcerated for crimes and less likely, of course, to depend on welfare later in their lives,” Coleman said.
She added that economists have found that a publicly financed, comprehensive early-childhood education program produces large budget savings. They estimate the net effect on government budgets at all levels combined would exceed $61 billion over 50 years. That money could be used to support programs such as Social Security and Medicaid, Coleman said.
Blunt is a big supporter of Parents as Teachers.
“I think Parents as Teachers is the sort of program we ought to expand,” Blunt said. “We want to help with that. Because of that, in the budget I submitted to the Missouri General Assembly we have a $5 million increase in Parents as Teachers funding.”
Blunt says the funding will help an additional 10,500 families across the state.
Jamie Blackwell is a mother who came to the Capitol to support Bond. She has been involved in Parents as Teachers since 1998 with her two young children.
“I was a kindergarten teacher, so I knew about the program,” Blackwell said.
Blackwell decided long before her children were born that she wanted to be involved with Parents as Teachers. Seeing results of the program first-hand persuaded her to use it to her own family.
Blackwell’s youngest daughter, Briana, 6, is from China, so Blackwell worried about her having speech problems and difficulty with English. She said Parents as Teachers helped her place her daughter into speech therapy and taught her how to continue speech therapy at home.
Blackwell said a Parents as Teachers screening also revealed that Briana needed glasses, and she praised the program’s emphasis on early reading. Briana is now at a high reading level for her first-grade status, and she even completes book reports.
Blackwell was so impressed with Parents as Teachers that she went to work for the program in October.
Blunt, whose mother was a Parents as Teachers worker and who awaits the birth of his first child in March, said he looks forward to participating as well.