Beyond Pre-K: California Leaps Ahead With Comprehensive Approach From Birth

While preschool expansion is in the headlines across the nation, California is leaping ahead with a focus on building a comprehensive early learning system from birth through age 5.

From the moment they are born, babies' brains are rapidly growing and making hundreds of neural connections each second. As they continue to grow, young children are learning everything from smiling, walking and speaking, to making choices, exploring and developing relationships. These are critical years that lay the foundation for the future.

Our legislative leaders in both the California State Assembly and Senate recognize that we must take a holistic approach -- starting at birth by serving our vulnerable infants and toddlers during the crucial first three years of their lives -- and expanding transitional kindergarten to serve all 4-year-olds.

And on Monday in Sacramento hundreds of early learning experts, practitioners and advocates are mobilizing at the Water Cooler Early Learning Conference
-- convened jointly by the Advancement Project and the California Department of Education -- to ensure 2014 is the year we put California's babies, toddlers and preschoolers first.

From Pulitzer Prize-Winning New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton through a special video address, national leaders are shining the spotlight on California's leadership in the nationwide movement to give children the strong foundation that they need and deserve in order to thrive during the crucial first five years of their lives.

We cannot continue to ignore the science -- we know we must start much earlier. The language gap between poor and affluent children is already evident at 18 months, according to recent research by Stanford University professor Anne Fernald. There's a six-month gap at age 2, and by the time they enter kindergarten as 5-year-olds, there's a two-year gap.

As a parent of a 3-year-old, I've seen firsthand how critical the early years are in laying a foundation for children's future success, and how quickly babies and toddlers learn and develop.

That's why I'm so excited about the Kids Ready to Succeed, California Ready to Lead package of proposals, and the potential to make a significant investment in our budget that restores, builds upon and improves California's early learning system so that it serves more children from birth through age 5, in better programs, and all children are ready for success in school.

The time is now. For our babies, toddlers and preschoolers, we can't let this moment pass us by.