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Kindergarten gives children the best possible start

As this school year gets underway across New Hampshire, we have extra reason to celebrate. This year, every child in New Hampshire will be able to attend public kindergarten and get a critical head start on their education.

Achieving statewide universal kindergarten was no easy task. It has taken decades of hard work and dedication from parents, teachers, school administrators, community activists, and elected officials. The push for universal kindergarten started before I was elected to office, and continued while I was governor as a top priority of my administration.

We found that the main barrier keeping school districts from offering public kindergarten was the expense of adding new classrooms. That's why I focused my efforts in my first year as governor on helping schools cover the cost of new classroom construction. I'm proud that as a result of our initiative we were able to reduce the number of school districts without public kindergarten from 47 to 10, opening school doors to more than 25,000 children across the state since that time.

I want to congratulate the New Hampshire Legislature and Gov. John Lynch for passing the law that brought the final school districts without kindergarten on board.

Getting this done was challenging, but it was the right thing to do.

The foundation for learning begins in the earliest years of life. Early childhood education provides critical opportunities to promote children's physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development. Young children who have access to quality early education score higher on aptitude assessments, have better social skills, and experience higher graduation rates. They are also less likely to become involved in criminal activity later in life.

The key to reaching these successful results is getting to students early. Studies have shown that gaps in learning between students in the third grade persist through high school and that later efforts to close those gaps are costly and not as effective.

Early childhood education doesn't only benefit our students; it strengthens our nation. Both common sense and research tells us that improved student outcomes mean fewer resources spent on remediation, such as summer school and school resource programs. Greater educational attainment leads to higher incomes and greater tax revenues. It also saves communities money through less spending on social services and criminal justice.

In fact, research from the National Institute for Early Education Research shows that for every dollar invested in quality early education, almost $13 is recovered.

Kindergarten and other quality early learning programs work. That's why we must increase access to early education and we must continue to strengthen the quality and quantity of early education programs available in our communities. We are off to a good start at the federal level. Earlier this year Congress invested an additional $2 billion to help provide families with quality child care and an additional $2.1 billion for Head Start programs.

But there's more to do. President Obama has made quality early childhood education a top priority in his education agenda, and I am hopeful that Congress will step up to the plate and help our states and local communities with the resources necessary to build comprehensive, quality early learning systems for our young children.

Improving educational opportunities is a community effort. I want to recognize Helen Schotanus with the New Hampshire Department of Education, who dedicated her career to the promise of kindergarten for all. In fact, Helen refused to retire until all children in New Hampshire could receive a public kindergarten education. On behalf of everyone in New Hampshire who has patiently worked toward this goal throughout the years. Thank you, Helen.

President Kennedy once said, "Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource." This is even truer today. Everyone involved in this extensive effort has made a good educational start possible for generations of New Hampshire students to come.


Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, is the junior senator from New Hampshire.