It’s been quite a year for early childhood education. More than ever, the momentum is strong and support for new investments in high-quality early childhood programs is coming from Republicans, Democrats, Independents, businesses, philanthropy and governments at every level.
Here are some highlights from 2014:
When Congress approved a $1 trillion spending bill for Fiscal Year 2014 in January, early childhood education came out as one of the biggest winners in the spending deal. Despite severe budget constraints, early childhood education overall was increased by over $1 billion. Specific increased investments included:
- An increase of $1.025 billion in Head Start funding— $612 million above pre-sequestration levels.
- As part of the Head Start increase, $500 million was invested in Early Head Start, including Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships.
- $250 million under Race to the Top for competitive grants to develop, expand or enhance locally-grown state preschool programs.
In March, Congress approved a six-month extension of the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program. Law enforcement, business leaders, health professionals, educators and dozens of organizations called for extending funding—and Congress heard them loud and clear. The legislation ensures that funding for voluntary federal home visiting programs will continue through March 2015. Without this action, thousands of community-based programs would have been forced to close, affecting families in need across the country.
The Strong Start for America’s Children Act was voted out of the Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor and Pensions this spring. The bill would establish effective state-federal partnerships to equip states and communities to improve and expand high quality, full-day preschool programs for four-year-olds with the goal of increasing school readiness. States would also have the flexibility to use funds for quality improvements, and to serve infants and toddlers.
The discussions in the HELP Committee around the bill reinforce the growing momentum behind increasing federal investments in early childhood education. Both parties acknowledge that increasing access to high-quality early childhood education is a national priority and show that we’ve moved from ‘why’ these investments are critical to ‘how’ these investments should be structured – which was a significant step.
A new national poll released by FFYF found that 71 percent of voters – including 60 percent of Republicans – support greater federal investments in early childhood education.
This was the second year that FFYF has commissioned a nonpartisan poll with Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research. And for the second year in a row, early childhood education is the second most important issue to voters after jobs and the economy. Regardless of their party affiliation, a strong majority of voters say we should be doing more to ensure children start kindergarten with the knowledge and skills to do their best. 55% of Republicans, 63% of Independents and 73% of Democrats say we should do more at the federal level.
Perhaps the biggest revelation of the new survey is that there is strong bipartisan support for increasing the federal debt in the short term to make smart investments in quality early childhood education. Voters are willing to spend today in order to reap future economic benefits that stem from early childhood education. Again, this support includes a majority of Republicans.
This fall, the U.S. Department of Education released significant revisions to the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. For the first time, the Department recommended including an Early Learning Intervention Model as an option for elementary schools struggling to meet state standards.
FFYF submitted formal comments on the proposal to the Department strongly supporting the inclusion of the Early Learning Intervention Model (ELIM) because research has shown time and time again that high-quality early learning programs help young children enter school ready to learn and give them the tools for academic success. FFYF also made several recommendations to further strengthen this option for our nation’s schools and increase the likelihood of the program’s success.
In the weeks before the November elections, FFYF released state polls in the key swing states of Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Colorado and Florida. Five polls in five politically distinct states showed similar, high levels of support and a desire to invest in a full range of early childhood education programs from birth to age five. Voters in each state want federal and state leaders to invest in early childhood now – not years down the road. A majority of the voters in these states say that sufficient funding for needs like education is a higher priority than holding the line on taxes and reining in spending. More than three-in-five in each state support a federal plan to help states expand access to quality early childhood programs from birth to age five—even if it increased the deficit in the short-term but paid for itself later on through better education, health and economic outcomes.
Thirty-five states and Puerto Rico applied for the new U.S. Department of Education Preschool Development Grants to help states build or expand high-quality pre-K programs, competing for a share of the $250 million in funding for the new grants. Several states that did not issue a formal “Intent to Apply” earlier in the fall ended up submitting final applications.
Following the contentious mid-term elections, top political strategists Democrat Jim Messina and Republican Kevin Madden released a memo on behalf of FFYF making a case for leaders in both parties to seize on the strong bipartisan support for a major federal investment in early education.
“There are a number of policy directions both parties can take, but unless they find a way of working on those policy directions together, through bipartisan solutions, they’re going to lose the faith of the electorate,” Messina and Madden wrote. “Congress and the President would be wise to sit down and roll up their sleeves to seriously build on existing bipartisan relationships in support of early childhood education.”
On November 19th, President Barack Obama – surrounded by both Democratic and Republican congressional leaders from the House and Senate – signed into law the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 (CCDBG). CCDBG passed the House and Senate in overwhelming fashion.
Last reauthorized in 1996, CCDBG is an important piece of legislation that will support working families while recognizing the important role of child care providers in a child’s development. The law aims to strengthen safety in child care settings by requiring all providers to comply with state health, safety, and fire standards and undergo annual inspections. Especially important is reform that improves the consistency of care provided. Children who initially qualify for a subsidy receive care for at least a year — regardless of changes to family income or work, training or education status. Provider training on child behavioral supports to reduce expulsions from early childhood programs is also required. A 16.5 percent increase in funding over six years has been authorized to help cover some of the costs of implementing these new provisions.
At the White House Summit on Early Education, President Barack Obama called on business leaders, philanthropists, advocates, elected officials and members of the public to invest in the expansion of early childhood opportunities for children across the country through Invest in US, a public awareness campaign launched in partnership with the FFYF and its philanthropic partners.
Dozens of corporations, foundations and individuals have agreed to dedicate a greater ongoing percentage of their philanthropy to expanding high quality early childhood programs and research as a strategy for achieving better education, health, social and economic outcomes, with commitments totaling more than $333 million. President Obama also announced over $750 million in grants for early learning programs through the Preschool Development Grants and Early Head Start-Child Care (EHS-CC) Partnerships, totaling more than $1 billion in critical investments in early childhood education announced today.
In a tight budget, appropriators increased funding by $75 million to states for child care, as part of the Child Care and Development Block Grant. The increased funding for early learning programs Congress passed in January was maintained – a sign of strong, continued bipartisan support.