In recent years Congress has passed bipartisan legislation to support early learning and development, including the 2014 reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act (CCDBG) and the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This legislation incorporated important steps to improve quality, access to, and results of early learning programs. But to realize their potential, Congress must ensure early learning programs are properly and sufficiently funded to accomplish the goals and activities authorized by law.

While authorizing legislation, such as the CCDBG, Head Start Act, and ESSA, establishes federal programs and their requirements in statute, actual funding levels for programs depend on the annual budget and appropriations process.

Each year, shortly after the State of the Union Address, the President submits a budget request to Congress, which includes the administration’s desired federal revenue and spending levels for each federal program, including federal early learning and child care initiatives. Congress then sets the total level of discretionary funding for the upcoming fiscal year in its concurrent congressional budget resolution. Once Congress establishes this total amount for discretionary funding, referred to as the 302a allocation, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees work to divide the 302a allocation amongst the 12 appropriations subcommittees; the amount of funding allotted to each subcommittee is known as the 302b allocation. Using this information, the 12 subcommittees, including the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee, which is responsible for most federal early learning and care programs, produce separate appropriations bills in each chamber. Traditionally, the full Senate and House then begin working through the legislative process to pass the bills prior to the conclusion of the federal fiscal year on September 30.

With bipartisan support, Congress has consistently prioritized early care and learning during both the Trump and Obama administrations and, in the face of limited resources, appropriated increasing funding to support the work being done at the state and local levels.

FFYF advocates for significant federal investment in early learning by working with policymakers on both sides of the aisle to find political and policy solutions that take us from where we are to where America needs to be. We are committed to making a continuum of comprehensive, high-quality early learning opportunities accessible to children from birth through age five – particularly those from low-income families. FFYF has a plan to leverage public support, which includes building upon the progress that Congress has championed for early learning during the appropriations process.


A March 2018 omnibus spending package included a historic increase in funding for the CCDBG program, effectively doubling the program’s discretionary funding; significantly increased funding for Head Start and Early Head Start; and funded the Preschool Development Grants program newly authorized by ESSA. In September 2018, Congress approved a FY2019 “minibus” appropriations package, which, in addition to a $200 million increase to funding for Head Start and Early Head Start, increased funding for the CCDBG program by $50 million, building on the historic $2.37 billion increase the program received in FY2018. The funding package, which also included a short-term Continuing Resolution to fund the rest of the government through December 7, 2018, was overwhelmingly approved by votes of 361-61 in the House and 93-7 in the Senate and was signed by the President September 28, 2018.

This crucial funding builds on previous bipartisan funding increases and will allow states to implement important quality improvements to child care and other early childhood programs that will better support children’s development and education.

Click here to see the current funding levels for the federal early childhood education programs, as approved by Congress in the FY2019 Labor/HHS appropriations “minibus.”