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Start With Equity: From the Early Years to the Early Grades

In 1983, President Reagan established a commission to examine the state of the U.S. education system. The resulting landmark report, A Nation at Risk, raised major concerns about our students’ preparedness to compete in an evolving and interconnected world economy. Despite several education system overhauls and billions of dollars, we are still very much a nation at risk four decades later. Today, the primary source of that risk is the uneven playing field and inequitable distribution of opportunity in our education system—starting with our youngest learners. More than half of the 74 million children in the United States are children of color, and they are served by learning systems that are gravely inequitable. The COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the health, economic wellbeing, and education of young children, only exacerbate existing inequalities.

In the midst of this global pandemic, the inequities that pervade everyday life for Black Americans and other people of color in the United States have come to a head with the recent killing of George Floyd at the hands of police and the thousands of people across the country protesting for an end to police violence and racial injustice. The opportunity to finally bring about equitable change across America’s systems, including the early learning and education systems, is as ripe as it has been in a generation.

Against this backdrop, the Children’s Equity Project and the Bipartisan Policy Center present a new, concrete early learning equity policy agenda that will help close opportunity gaps in learning systems. With support from the Heising-Simons Foundation, our two organizations held convenings in 2019 with over 70 experts to examine the state of equity in young children. Informed by those convenings, we developed a new report that reviews child equity data, research, and policy and culminates in targeted recommendations to build more equitable learning systems across this nation.

The United States is at a crossroads. We can spend the next several years trying to get back to the broken, ineffective status quo in our learning systems, where children were falling—or being pushed—through the cracks at astonishing rates. Or, we can choose to address the core, structural inequities that have held generations of children, especially Black, Latinx, and Native American children, back. For the sake of our country, we hope policymakers respond to the multiple crises facing our nation, with the latter. The policy agenda presented here can help us get there.

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