Highlighting the importance of a healthy start for children, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) visited Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Pottstown Tuesday.Casey said adequate health care coverage and early childhood education benefit everyone's future.

The junior senator read to 4 and 5-year-old Montgomery Early Learning Center students and called attention to his Prepare All Kids Act, which would offer assistance to states to make sure every child receives at least one year of high-quality pre-kindergarten education.

Introduced in May, the bill calls for discretionary funding of $5 billion for fiscal year 2008 with a $1 billion increase each year through 2012, with states required to put up a 50 percent match in cash.

With his plan, Casey wants to "close the preparation gap" and reduce the risk of academic failure, which can lead to future social problems like drug abuse and crime.

"It starts with children in the dawn of their lives. They can't compete with the global economy without this commitment now," Casey said.

Based on research studied by the Perry Preschool Program in Michigan, high-quality programs keep children out of trouble and allow academic success.

Another long-term study, based in Chicago, concluded that children who did not participate in early childhood education programs were more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by the age of 18.

The senate has already adopted a Casey amendment to the Senate-passed budget resolution. The deficit-neutral reserve fund will pave the way for future expansion of early childhood education.

Following his tour and visit with students, Casey also spoke about the need to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP.)

President Bush recently decided to deny states' rights to expand coverage to families through the CHIP program. Bush will require a 12-month period of un-insurance before children can get public coverage.

Children from working families represent 78 percent of uninsured children. The change in the CHIP policy will specifically affect 2,000 in Pennsylvania.

President Bush has also called for a freeze in funding for childcare assistance for the sixth year in a row, a decision Casey called "fiscally irresponsible."

Casey proposed reversing tax cuts for the wealthy in order to fund the programs necessary for the futures of working poor and middle income children.

Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) has proposed a similar initiative that is gaining attention due to her bid for the presidency.

Casey explained that by reversing tax cuts for the wealthy, the programs could be easily funded.

"In the context of the war, increasing budget deficit and national debt, with the lack of funding for care for our veterans, Medicaid and Medicare, the tax cuts are immoral. It is unfair. If these other problems were solved, then it (the cuts) would be OK. It is really outrageous," Casey said.

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