2014 started off with a bang, with Congress increasing Fiscal Year 2014 early learning funding by over $1 billion. It was a huge accomplishment for our field, and more evidence that the folks on the Hill have been paying attention to our message.

But believe it or not, discussions have already started on FY2015. We hear that, in a radical departure from how recent appropriations cycles have worked, this one might be… regular.

That’s right: House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) have said that they want to restore regular order to the federal appropriations process. Of course, the annual federal funding dance has been so out of step in recent years, it’s hard to remember what “regular” even means. For starters, it means no omnibuses. No continuing resolutions. No January spending deals for fiscal years that actually started in October. These are very aspirational goals, but for the time being, we have to take our appropriator friends at their word and advocate accordingly.

Here’s a crash course on what regular order might look like:

  • April – May: The House Labor, Health & Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee will conduct hearings for programs within the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to determine their funding levels. The Senate subcommittee with the same catchy name will follow suit.
  • June – July: The House will “mark up”—that is, debate, amend, and ultimately vote out—their appropriations bill, starting in the subcommittee, then moving to the full committee. The Senate subcommittee may begin their mark up towards the end of July, though even in this brave new world, they are likely to start later.
  • August: Everybody leaves for recess this month, though the House appropriations bill may see a vote on the House floor the first week before everybody skips town.
  • September: The Senate may mark up in full committee, then move their appropriations bill to a floor debate. If they didn’t manage it before their big break, the House will have a floor debate now.
  • October: Once the appropriations bills are voted on and passed in the House and Senate, they will be sent to a joint House-Senate conference committee, where members and the White House negotiate differences, and, in an ideal world, produce a final bill that is sent back to the House and Senate for a final vote.
  • After that, the final bill is sent to the President by October 1 for signature or veto.

This timeline gives us some solid opportunities to reach out to members and staff before key decision points. In particular, the Memorial Day, Fourth of July and August recesses will see legislators in their home districts. These are good times to invite them to visit a center or set up a meeting with parents, law enforcement officials or business leaders who can talk about the importance of early learning. If you can’t get on a member’s agenda, don’t forget about senior staff. Take a staffer on a tour and he or she may become a great ally who can connect you with the member the next time around.

In addition to telling them that early learning is a bipartisan, voter-supported investment in the workforce of the future, you can ask your local federal legislator to support the following investments in FY 2015:

  • $807 million increase for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, to help implement new quality, health and safety regulations and restore some of the children and families who have lost access to care.
  • $1.07 billion increase for Head Start, to allow expansion of high quality early learning opportunities to an additional 100,000 infants and toddlers through partnerships with child care providers, and to provide a cost of living increase to all programs to prevent erosion of quality by rising costs.
  • $100 million increase for early intervention services to infants and toddlers with disabilities through IDEA Part C.
  • $51 million increase for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers for before and after school care for school-age children.
  • $500 million for Preschool Development Grants that encourage states to move forward on expansion of high quality preschool for four year olds from low and moderate income families to prepare them for success in school.

Early learning is on the march, and the 2015 appropriations cycle—no matter how regular or irregular it may be—is yet another way for our community to raise our voices for investments in quality early learning. The First Five Years Fund team looks forward to keeping you updated as the process continues.