After much hard work, early childhood education once again ended the year on a high note. Governors from red and blue states alike invested more in early childhood education. Businesses and philanthropies implemented the public/private commitments made through Invest In US. An overwhelming majority of the voting public ranked early childhood development as one of the most important federal issues. Early childhood education was finally made a part of education reform through a significant role in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). And, the federal government dedicated more funding to core federal programs birth through age 5. At year’s end, the House and Senate passed the Omnibus spending bill, which added nearly $1 billion in federal investments to early childhood for the upcoming year. The past twelve months of success on behalf of our youngest learners builds on bipartisan momentum that’s been growing and will hopefully continue into the new year to truly solidify early childhood education as a national priority. A few highlights follow.
Federal and state governments started the year with strong commitments to early childhood. President Obama declared child care a national economic priority during his State of the Union speech, and committed to increased, affordable access to child care for middle-class and low-income families.
On a state level, Governors across the country embraced early childhood education in their State of the States addresses. Gov. Bentley (R-AL) built on the state’s First Class Pre-K program, which provided free, high-quality preschool to 7,000 4-year-olds across Alabama. In New Hampshire, Gov. Hassan (D-NH) prioritized efforts to make full-day kindergarten more accessible for the districts. Gov. Inslee (D-WA) also proposed a $2.3 billion investment in education, which would open 6,000 slots in high-quality preschools for low-income children, while in Texas, Gov. Abbott (R-TX) named early education his first emergency item in his governorship.
The President’s budget request to Congress carved out $66 billion for Preschool for All, along with $15 billion to build out home visiting programs over the next decade. President Obama also requested that an additional $1.5 billion be invested into Head Start during 2015.
Congress voted to reauthorize both the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as well as MIECHV, the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program for two additional years. The MIECHV program served families in 787 counties nationwide in fiscal year 2014 (FY14). Reauthorizing MIECHV ensures that children and families in across the country continue to receive services that allow expectant mothers find prenatal care, provide families with health and development education and work with families to set goals that will create better opportunities for their children, while Early Childhood Home Visiting programs provide low-income parents with health, social service and child development resources they need to promote healthy growth during the key stages of brain development. Federal support for these programs increased state capacity to bring important resources to disadvantaged children and families.
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education held a bipartisan hearing solely on the issue of early childhood education. Truly a sign of how the issue can unify Members of both parties. Diana Rauner, President of the Ounce of Prevention and the First Lady of Illinois, testified and advocated for increased federal investment in early childhood education. Investments in high-quality early learning opportunities yield positive returns not only for the well-being of that child, but for society as a whole, making early childhood a bipartisan, national issue.
During this month, Save the Children Action Network also organized an Advocacy Summit on Capitol Hill to call on elected officials to support early childhood by demonstrating constituency backing.
Finally, the Center for American Progress partnered with Invest in US to host an event highlighting why investing in early childhood is critical for states and communities for developing a future workforce. State and national advocacy groups showcasing constituent support, coupled with experts discussing how early childhood is a smart, national investment showed that early childhood education is an issue everyone can agree on.
Head Start, the longest standing federal early childhood program, turned 50 this year. Since 1965, Head Start has served more than 32 million children across the country, allowing millions of families to access early childhood opportunities for their child they otherwise could not afford. Also this month, U.S. Rep. Scott and U.S. Rep. Hanna reintroduced Strong Start to Congress in an effort to improve early learning opportunities for children from birth to age 5. This initiative outlines a decade-long federal-state partnership that will increase access to early learning opportunities for children from low-income families.
By June, red and blue states continued to make progress towards their commitments to early childhood. Gov. Bentley (R-AL) signed the Education Trust Fund Budget into law, which added $10 million to the state’s First Class Pre-K program. Bentley also announced more than 200 new grants that would increase access to the program for 3,600 more 4-year-olds. Alaskan lawmakers agreed to a budget deal that was then passed by the Legislature to reinstate $2 million in funding for pre-K grants and $700,000 to fund Parents as Teachers.
Fourteen years since No Child Left Behind was enacted, the U.S. Senate passed a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Coauthored by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), the Every Child Achieves Act garnered bipartisan support and included a dedicated program to support state efforts to expand preschool.
The Administration proposed new Head Start performance standards that present the opportunity to increase the quality of the program. Advocates, philanthropy, providers and others contributed comments to address emphasized range of issues including full-day, full-year offerings; outcomes-based standards; the reduction of burdensome requirements and improved professional development.
Additional organizations have added early childhood education to their list of priorities. Key among them this year was, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21), a national coalition consisting of policymakers, education leaders and members of the business community.
The momentum from Invest in US continued to grow with new commitments. The Helen Walton Children’s Enrichment Center committed to $12.5 million for Invest in US in northwest Arkansas.
FFYF released its third annual poll, which showed giving children a strong start in life a top national priority. Voters across the country believe that learning in the early years is critical for future success, and that access to quality early childhood education is a necessity for today’s families.
Twenty states across the country previously received $1 billion in Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grants since 2011, and a joint report released by the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services demonstrated a dramatic increase in the quality of early childhood education programs.
The two-time NBA MVP and president of the Steve Nash Foundation, Steve Nash, joined the Invest In US campaign earlier this year. Nash called for a greater investment in quality early learning opportunities for disadvantaged children, and was recognized by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for his commitment to early learning at Educare Arizona.
Members of Congress, Governors, state legislators, and advocates from across the country weighed in on the need for federal appropriations to meet needs of children birth through five. These efforts highlighted that not only states and local communities have demonstrated their desire to invest in early education, but federal support is critical to ensure both access and future success. Preschool Development Grants help fulfill this need by providing funds to build and expand programs in high need communities.
On December 2nd, an overwhelming majority of 359 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass the Every Student Succeeds Act, legislation to replace No Child Left Behind. The following week Senators voted85 to to pass ESSA, as well. For the first time, provisions for early childhood education were written into the most prominent federal education bill, which was signed into effect on December 10 by President Obama.
Both the House and Senate also voted in early December to pass an Omnibus spending bill, which added nearly $1 billion in federal investments to early childhood for the upcoming year. Funding for major federal programs that support critical early learning opportunities for young children from low-income families, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Early Head Start and Head Start, have increased, as well as funding for CCDBG, which has risen by $326 million from FY15, and Head Start, which has grown by $570 million from FY15.
Along with the Omnibus, the House and Senate voted to make the Child Tax Credit under the Tax Extender bill and Earned Income Tax Credit permanent, providing tax credits and benefits to eligible low- and moderate-income families.