This week, Secretary John King led the Early Learning Challenge Tour, which included visits to two Early Learning Challenge states, Colorado and Delaware, and the release of the 2015 Progress Update for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC). Recognizing the critical role access to a continuum of high-quality early learning opportunities can have on an individual child’s academic, health, and social outcomes, in addition to benefitting families and the country at large, the Early Learning Challenge states have leveraged this federal investment opportunity to more than double the number of programs rated highest in quality.

Since its authorization by Congress in 2011, RTT-ELC has invested in 20 states to support their work in expanding high-quality early education to children from low- and moderate-income families. The competitive grant opportunity, administered jointly by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED), awarded states with four-year funding to improve the quality of early learning and development programs for children from birth through age five. With the federal investment to support state work, RTT-ELC recipients have demonstrated significant improvement to increasing access to high-quality early learning opportunities. This is evidenced by the nearly 70,000 early learning and development programs, an 85% increase since the first application phase, included in all tiers of the Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System (TQRIS). TQRIS is a research-based, flexible framework intended to encourage innovation, creativity, and comprehensive approaches to program-wide quality improvement. Furthermore, RTT-ELC states, such as Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, have significantly increased the number of programs in the top tiers of their TQRIS on an annual basis. Across all 20 RTT-ELC states, the increase of programs rating in the top tiers of their TQRIS is 134% greater than ratings at the time of grant application. Specifically, more children with high-needs, across a mixed-delivery system that includes state-funded preschool programs, CCDF-Funded programs, and Early Head Start/Head Start, are accessing early learning opportunities that rate in the top tiers of the TQRIS.

In tandem with state gains in expanding access to high-quality early learning programs, both Departments have worked to put research efforts in place that will develop early childhood education tools to support the transition to elementary school, in addition to sharing resources with states to support preschool alignment with K-12 education. In addition the $75 billion Preschool for All proposal in the President’s 2017 budget proposal, President Obama has underlined the role of public-private partnerships, and called on business leaders, philanthropists, advocates, elected officials and members of the public to invest in the expansion of early learning opportunities for children across the country through Invest in US, an initiative created by FFYF in response to the President’s charge.

For more information, check out ED’s Fact Sheet on Expanding Access to High-Quality Early Learning.