Many of us are getting back to the daily grind and setting goals for the new year. Congress is getting back to work, too, and since the First Five Years Fund is in a resolution-making frame of mind, we’ve got a few suggestions.

Protect Early Learning from Falling off the Fiscal Cliff
Congress can protect investments in Head Start and child care when the sequestration delay it negotiated as part of the fiscal cliff deal expires in two months. Under the bill approved last week, early childhood education programs got a reprieve from the largest across-the-board cuts in history, but they’re not safe from the chopping block yet. The sequestration cuts that were set to hit early childhood programs and most other domestic spending are pushed back to March 1, giving lawmakers the opportunity to craft a broader budget agreement. To help pay for postponing sequestration, Congress agreed to raise $12 billion in revenue and cut $12 billion from FY13 and FY14 spending, including $6 billion from domestic programs. It’s unclear whether spending cuts would affect early education programs.

What is clear is that, should sequestration go into effect, Head Start and child care would be cut by 8.2 percent. Cuts of this magnitude would be devastating, and could mean more than 100,000 children lose access to Head Start and 80,000 families lose child care assistance. Classrooms and centers could close, and as many as 20,000 teachers and staff could face lay-offs. The debate about spending is far from resolved, but the next 60 days may present us with additional opportunities to remind policymakers that investments in early learning yield short- and long-term economic returns, for at-risk children and for all of us.

Invest in Early Learning Programs
There’s more to the federal early learning landscape than the fiscal cliff. The Continuing Resolution that’s been keeping government running is set to expire on March 27, meaning Congress will soon have to make a decision about FY13 appropriations for the second half of the fiscal year. Meanwhile, the 2014 budget process is about to begin—though President Obama will reportedly delay releasing his FY14 budget for several weeks. Each of these steps in the annual budget and appropriations dance will have implications for Head Start, Early Head Start, child care, and the Early Learning Challenge. FFYF will be tracking developments closely and alerting you to the best windows of opportunity for weighing in with your federal delegation.

Make New Friends and Keep the Old
We’re getting a clearer picture of who the key decision makers for early learning programs are going to be, and there have been some leadership changes to the committees and subcommittees with jurisdiction over early learning. On the appropriations side, Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is the new chairwoman of the full Senate Committee on Appropriations. In the House, Nita Lowey (D-NY) is the new ranking member of the appropriations committee, while Jack Kingston (R-GA) is the new chair of the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Services. On the authorizing side, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is expected to serve as ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. In the House, Todd Rokita (R-IN) is the new chair of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education.

But, of course, those aren’t the only changes in Congress; there are 13 new senators and 82 new members of the House. There’s no time like the present to introduce yourself to new members of your delegation and orient them to the ways that early childhood education produces big returns in education, health, and economic prosperity. It’s also a good idea to get back in touch with the members you already know to thank them for their hard work and encourage them to continue to support investments in early learning.

For our part, the First Five Years Fund will also resolve to keep you up on the latest early learning news coming out of Washington and provide you with the tools you can use as you help spread the message about investments in quality early childhood education. Happy 2013, everyone!