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.

Just before adjourning for August recess, Congress passed a two-year budget deal setting defense and non-defense spending levels for FY2020 and FY2021, which was necessary to avoid across-the-board funding cuts to non-defense discretionary programs. With these new levels in place, the Senate will move forward with markup of its FY2020 appropriations bill, including the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill.

Earlier this summer, the House of Representatives passed a “minibus” package with substantial funding increases for many of the federal early learning and care programs that fall under the jurisdiction of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations subcommittee. Congress must still agree to and pass 12 FY2020 appropriations bills before the current fiscal year ends on September 30. Otherwise, a short-term continuing resolution may be needed.

Click here to see the funding levels approved by the House compared to FY2019 funding.