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Money for roads and bridges, but not child care

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo deserves congratulations. An on-time budget is something to be proud of, and it takes a lot of calculating to do what's best for the people of New York with limited resources.

We did a little calculating on behalf of the people of New York who are sometimes forgotten -- the 1.2 million children in the birth to 5 category. It's true that New York didn't cut child care subsidies for low-income children. It even added about 409 children statewide. Increasing access was important, but it won't have the desired impact without quality early education.

Scientists tell us that 85 percent of children's brain connections are hard-wired before they start school. Therefore, the period of time between birth and kindergarten is the most pivotal period for creating the framework for a physically and emotionally healthy individual. It's where the "achievement gap" can be most effectively eliminated.

Research also shows that low-quality early care and education programs are detrimental. So it's not enough to provide subsidies and increase access if we don't also strengthen the quality of the care and education children receive.

We must also build on New York's spending on public education by ensuring that children are ready for school before they ever set foot in the door. School readiness will boost third-grade reading levels, decrease the need for special education and remediation and increase high school graduation rates.

We know all this. Yet New York recently lost out on the opportunity for federal funding through the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant. The winners were states that had invested in their young children and currently have a quality rating and improvement system, such as New York State's QUALITYstarsNY, in place. QUALITYstarsNY has been field tested and parents and early education programs are ready to embrace it.

The State Department of Education is using QUALITYstarsNY to reach 300 programs in persistently low-achieving school districts. While this is wonderful, at this rate it will take until the end of the century to reach every child. QUALITYstarsNY needs serious state funding for statewide implementation.

The new budget calls for New York Works to oversee the spending of $1.2 billion on roads, bridges, parks and other infrastructure. I understand the governor's long-term thinking. Focusing on the foundation will help us ensure real and lasting improvements. We urge the same approach for early learning.

By providing quality early learning and development now, we ensure the long-term success of our economy. Just as roads and bridges need solid bearings, so do our young children.

We call on Cuomo and the Legislature to make 2013 the year for young children and quality early learning.


Marsha Basloe is executive director of the Early Care & Learning Council. Kathy Halas is executive director of the Child Care Council of Westchester.