Sen. Ton Harkin, D-Iowa., at a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee hearing on early childhood education (Jonathan Palmer/Medill News Service)

Sen. Ton Harkin, D-Iowa., at a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee hearing on early childhood education (Jonathan Palmer/Medill News Service)

WASHINGTON- A Senate leader said Thursday his committee plans action on an early childhood bill before the Memorial Day recess.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is examining early education programs in what Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, described as “the first in a series focusing on early learning.”

In opening remarks, Chairman Harkin outlined his goals for early 2014, including improving his Strong Start for America’s Children Act and building toward a markup of the legislation before the Memorial Day recess in May. Once approved in committee, the bill could move to the Senate floor.

The bill, co-authored by Harkin and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., was introduced in November and currently has 27 co-sponsors.

On Wednesday, Miller described the legislation as an “innovative 10-year federal-state partnership that would improve early learning opportunities for children nation wide.”

Harkin used the hearing as an opportunity to get feedback from education experts on the act.

“I appreciated the emphasis on quality,” Dr. Hirokazu Yoshikawa, professor of Globalization at New York University, said in terms of the act’s language. “I think there could be even greater specificity on what that means and how to support it.”

Harkin continually noted that creating quality childhood education would cost more money.

Studies show that early childhood education programs have a wide range of educational, developmental and health benefits for three and four-year-olds.

Yoshikawa’s testimony highlighted that  the young students improve in literacy and mathematics. But early childhood education and care programs also positively effect kids’ socio-emotional development. And Head Start programs have been linked with improvements in child immunization rates.

Long term effects of early childhood education include reduced crime, higher graduation rates and reduced teen pregnancy, according to Rep. Miller.

But a Government Accountability Office report, released Wednesday, found that poor coordination between government agencies has hurt the effectiveness of early childhood programs. John White, state superintendent for the Louisiana Department of Education, echoed those concerns.

“The question is how do we put those individuals in the best position to learn and develop,” White said. “We need to fix the current fragmented framework.”

Top Republican Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., attacked the current system in Washington saying it was evidence of poor execution of early education programs. Additionally, Alexander criticized President Barack Obama’s Preschool for All proposal.

“To former governors like me, [Preschool forAll] sounds like the Medicaid program of federal promises and mandates that have become a costly burden for states,” Alexander said.

The early childhood education system has been criticized for its lack of cohesion and slow reaction to calls for change.

Although Obama mentioned early childhood education in his 2013 and 2014 State of the Union addresses, very little was done legislatively. The GAO also said that the departments of Education and Human Health Services need to do more to work toward dealing with suggestions that were made by GAO in 2012.