Mazie K Hirono

Introduction of the Early Childhood Educator Loan Forgiveness Act of 2007 - June 11, 2007

Mazie K Hirono
June 11, 2007— U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC
Congressional floor speech
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Madam Speaker, I rise today to introduce the Early Childhood Educator Loan Forgiveness Act of 2007.

We have paid a lot of attention to reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act so far this year. One of the disturbing things we often hear in these discussions is how far behind our students are when compared with their peers around the world. Another problem we have talked a lot about is the persistent achievement gap between well-off, White children and everyone else in this country.

Last month Speaker Pelosi hosted a National Summit for America's Children, where we heard from leading child development experts about the importance of providing high-quality early education opportunities to boost success in school and in life.

Science shows definitively that a majority of brain development occurs in the first few years of life, and that influences--positive or negative--in these formative years can last a lifetime. We were reminded at the summit that getting it right in the early years is far more advantageous than trying to fix things later.

Kindergarten teachers know from first-hand experience what scientists know from their research: Often when 5 year olds enter school, there is already a noticeable achievement gap between those students from more privileged backgrounds and those from disadvantaged households.

Too often, working families cannot afford to send their children to a high quality preschool, so the youngsters end up spending their formative years in the care of family members--often untrained in early childhood development. The resulting hours in front of a television certainly do not stimulate the positive neural activity needed for healthy brain development.

Not only does this experience limit the child's potential for success in school, it also hurts our country. Children without a high quality early education experience are less likely to contribute to the economy, more likely to commit crimes, and more likely to experience poverty and the poor health that goes with it.

Scientists, economists, teachers, and parents tell us that we must invest in our country's future by funding increased access to high-quality early childhood education.

And yet, time and time again, I hear from the early education community in Hawaii that even with more classrooms and more money, they could not make real progress toward serving every family who wants to send their children to preschool because they don't have enough qualified teachers.

We know that a highly qualified teacher makes a huge difference for children. We owe it to them to have a teacher who knows what he or she is doing. Unfortunately, there are strong economic barriers to increasing the number of qualified early education workers. When students are choosing a career, it is unlikely that they will decide to take on the thousands of dollars in educational debt for a job that will pay so little. The average preschool teacher makes less than janitors, secretaries, and many other workers with only a high school diploma. As the saying goes, "it just doesn't add up."

We can change the equation. We can start by providing loan forgiveness to students who get a degree in early childhood education or a related field and then teach in low income communities, where the real need is, for 5 years. This bill will do just that.

Cost is not the only prohibitive factor for prospective early education teachers. In some places there are simply no training programs available. Our teachers' colleges are not prepared to turn out the number of quality teachers we will need if we are to make a real investment in early education. Further, even with a more robust workforce, States would not have the money they need to implement high-quality early education standards, build the facilities, and run the programs. I am working with Chairman Miller and others on the Education and Labor Committee to address these problems in other pieces of legislation.

But while we work on all the other issues, we cannot wait to pass this bill. It is a necessary first step because its benefits will not accrue immediately--training new teachers will take time.

I urge my colleagues to support this bill so that we do not miss a chance to make real progress toward closing the disturbing achievement gaps our children face--both amongst themselves and when compared with their peers around the world.

153 Congr. Rec. E1259. (2007).