JEFFERSON CITY - U.S. Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R- Mo. visited the state capitol to announce his proposal of the "Education Begins at Home Act."
The bill will provide $400 million over three years to states to expand access to parent education and family services through quality early childhood home visitation programs. An additional $100 million over three years will be provided to help fund both home visitation services to families with English Language Learners and families on military bases.
The Department of Health and Human Services will collaborate with the Department of Education to make grants which will then be allocated to states. The number of children from birth through age five residing in a state will determine how much funding a state will receive. However, no state can be granted more than $20 million per year.
Once funding is received, states will be able to provide families with voluntary early childhood home visitation, group meetings to educate parents and training and technical assistance to visitation staff. States will also be able to provide annual health, vision, hearing and developmental screening to eligible children.
"Being a parent is hard work and babies do not come with directions. 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," Bond said.
The act was inspired by a program called Parents As Teachers, or PAT, which Bond created in 1981 during his term as governor of Missouri. PAT is an early childhood program designed for families throughout pregnancy until their child enters kindergarten. It aims to enhance child development and school achievement through parent education. The program is available to all families regardless of socio-economic level or location.
While the program is currently only operating in some states, Bond hopes the act will place the program on a national level. Since its inception, PAT has helped over 2 million families nationwide.
In addition to speaking to the House and Senate caucus, the senator spoke to an energized crowd of parent educators, PAT families and school administrators, who applauded every idea Bond put forth. Sen. Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis City, and Gov. Matt Blunt also spoke in support of Bond's act and recognized the significance of PAT.
"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," said Coleman.
She added that economists have found that a publicly financed, comprehensive early childhood education program produces large budget savings over time. They estimate the net effects on budgets of all levels of government combined would exceed cuts of $61 billion over fifty years. This saved money could be used on Social Security and Medicaid, Coleman said.
These statistics prompted Blunt to take a step forward in advancing the PAT program in Missouri.
"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, and 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 and PAT. She has been involved in the program since 1998 with her two young children.
"I was a kindergarten teacher, so I knew about the program," said Blackwell.
Blackwell said she decided long before her children were born that she wanted them and herself to be involved with PAT. Seeing the results from the program first-hand convinced her to apply it to her own family.
Blackwell's youngest daughter, Briana, 6, is from China. Because of this, Blackwell was concerned about her having speech problems and difficulty with English. She said PAT helped her place her daughter into speech therapy and workers instructed her on how to continue speech therapy in the home. Blackwell said also she did not know Briana had poor eyesight. Through a screening test that PAT set her up with, it was discovered that Briana needed glasses. PAT workers helped Blackwell read to her daughter and told her to do so from when her daughter was at an early age. Briana is now at a high reading level for her first grade status, even completing book reports.
Blackwell said she was so impressed with the efforts of PAT that she became inspired to work for the program and has been in Jefferson City since October 2004.
Blunt's mother was a PAT educator as well. Blunt is expecting his first child in March, and the soon-to-be father made it clear that he approves of the program.
"I look forward to participating in the program in a few weeks," said Blunt.