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After Recent Historic Progress, Early Childhood Education Could Be a Unifying Issue for a Divided Congress

News November 6, 2018

Which party holds power historically has had little bearing on the success of early learning and child care policy advancements

While voter motivations behind the outcomes of the hyper-partisan midterm elections will be hotly debated over the coming days and weeks, one issue remained uniquely and overwhelmingly bipartisan on the campaign trail and in Congress over the past two years: early childhood education. Throughout the 115th Congress, Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Washington set aside the extreme partisanship dominating politics today to work together and advance historic investments and innovative policies that will increase access to high-quality early learning and care nationwide. Over the course of the coming weeks and months, the First Five Years Fund (FFYF) will help new and returning lawmakers identify areas within and across the birth-through-five continuum of care & education where they can lean in and lead.

“There has been unprecedented engagement and attention paid to these elections and what they mean for the next two years in Congress. And while pundits will spend weeks dissecting what today’s results mean for the future, our work preparing for the new Congress begins immediately,” said FFYF executive director Sarah Rittling. “Across the political spectrum and at every level of government, candidates and policymakers understand the importance of investing in our children’s earliest years. FFYF is therefore squarely focused on determining how best to build on the strong, bipartisan foundation in place at the federal level to grow even stronger support for early childhood education over the next two years. When the dust settles from this election and members of the 116th Congress are sworn in, we will have laid the groundwork to ensure new and returning lawmakers understand that early childhood education is a unifying issue that can bring them together from across the aisle.”

Foundation of Success to Achieve Greater Progress

Moving beyond this election and in anticipation of a new Congress, there is a strong, bipartisan foundation of support and understanding among lawmakers on early childhood education — arguably the envy of any high-profile issue policy issue today. In a relatively short time, we have seen:

  • Historic bipartisan progress over the past decade – particularly during the 115th Congress
  • A demonstration of bipartisan support for early learning among voters
  • Widespread understanding of the need to ensure children from birth through age five have access to high-quality early childhood education opportunities.

With this foundation in place, FFYF will work with its partners, longstanding Congressional supporters and new Members to ensure this momentum is maintained and expanded. FFYF will be launching an effort to work with lawmakers of both parties and the administration to showcase opportunities and recommendations for policy solutions to make progress on early childhood education.

Historic Bipartisan Progress

Bipartisan policymakers, under Republican leadership in the House and Senate and in partnership with a Republican administration, made historic gains for children from birth through age five during the 115th Congress, achieving much of what was contained in FFYF’s 2016 framework. Key policy achievements, detailed in a new resource from FFYF, include:

  • A five-year extension of the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program;
  • A $890 million increase for Early Head Start and Head Start, including $170 million for Early Head Start – Child Care Partnerships, from FY2016 levels to FY2019 levels;
  • Implementation of the Preschool Development Grants Birth Through Five (PDG B-5), authorized under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); and
  • A $2.5 billion funding increase for Child Care and Development Block Grants (CCDBG) program from FY2016-FY2019, including the single largest funding increase to CCDBG in history as part of the bipartisan FY2018 omnibus funding bill.

Unlike many policy issues that rely on the success of one political party for their legislative success, early childhood education has made tremendous progress in Washington over the past decade under most every possible partisan makeup of power.

A recent report released by FFYF shows major increases in funding for the core early learning and care programs have occurred while Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress, while Democrats control the White House and power is split in Congress, while Democrats control the White House and Republicans control both chambers of Congress, while Republicans control the White House and both chambers of Congress, and while Republicans control the White House and Democrats control both chambers of Congress.

Similarly, there has been a clear understanding among policymakers and candidates at the state level that early childhood education makes for good policy – and politics.

Building off of years of progress and investment in early learning opportunities in states and communities from coast to coast, a vast majority of successful candidates for governor elected Tuesday touted plans for strengthening their states’ early learning and care opportunities during their campaigns – a clear indicator that candidates understand how much the bipartisan progress for early learning at the state and community level in recent years resonates with voters.

Bipartisan Support for Early Learning Among Voters

Voters consistently say they want their lawmakers to do more to ensure families have access to affordable, high-quality early learning and care. Last week, FFYF released a new report that consolidates and synthesizes the findings of its years of publicly available opinion research with that of other national and state polls – some of which have never been released publicly. The analysis of this aggregate survey data found that polling over the last decade shows quality early childhood education is a top priority issue for Americans of every political persuasion.

Widespread Understanding Around Importance of ECE

Americans understand the value of early childhood education, and they believe it is essential to provide all children with a strong start by aiding in their early physical, intellectual, and emotional development. This largely stems from an overwhelming arsenal of scientific research showing the benefits of high-quality early learning opportunities – particularly for children from low-income families. During the first few years of life, a child’s brain is at its most flexible, making this a critical period for learning and growth. Waiting until kindergarten is too late—children who receive quality early education demonstrate greater cognitive and socio-emotional development than children who do not.

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