In a year when partisan politics captivated the spotlight across America, one issue continued to transcend the “left vs. right” divide and made tremendous progress at the federal level: early childhood education. Congress and the Obama administration achieved bipartisan victories for America’s youngest learners in 2016.
FFYF’s latest national bipartisan poll proved definitively that, even in an angry and polarized election, 90% of voters agree on one thing: Congress and the next president should work together to make quality early childhood education more accessible and affordable to low- and middle-income families. This includes 78% of Trump supporters.
That’s why we’ve spent the last year preparing for every electoral inevitability. FFYF released a framework to start conversations with the 115th Congress and the incoming Trump administration. The goal is to work together and build on the historic progress that has been made in recent years on early learning and care. The First Five Years Fund is looking forward to working with both the new congress and the Trump administration to accomplish even more for America’s children from birth to age 5.
To follow are some of 2016’s greatest moments for high-quality early childhood education at the federal level:
- State of the Union: The White House started the year off with a strong commitment to early childhood education yet again. In January, during his final State of the Union address, President Obama acknowledged the tremendous progress that has been made advancing early childhood education during his administration, and he called for even greater achievements in the years to come. This marked the fourth year in a row that early learning was included in the president’s annual address, underscoring this issue as a high priority for the White House.
- President Obama’s FY2017 Budget: Following the final State of the Union, President Obama released his FY2017 Budget. With nearly $20 billion allocated for early learning and care, the president’s final budget proposal to Congress helped cement his legacy as a champion for America’s youngest learners.
- Economic Report to the President: The White House released the 70th Annual Economic Report to the President, which highlighted the need for early learning investments. To promote the release of the report, Dr. Sandy Black, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, hosted a national webinar with Invest in US. The webinar emphasized the report’s proposals to invest in early childhood education and development.
- Child Care and Development Fund Regulations: In response to the proposed rule that established new regulations for the newly reauthorized Child Care and Developed Fund, FFYF submitted comments to the Office of Child Care. FFYF commended the Administration for Children and Families for the changes put forth in the proposed rule, in particular those that elevated quality, encouraged continuity of care to minimize disruptions to children’s development and learning, and promoted more family-friendly requirements so that parents are better able to make the right child care decisions for their families.
- S. House Task Force on Poverty: In late February, the House of Representative’s Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility released their vision and mission statement. In this statement the task force proposed early childhood education as a policy reform option for breaking the cycle of poverty and promoting upward mobility in America.
- Head Start and the Flint Water Crisis: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Michigan’s representatives to Congress stepped up in March to address the urgency of protecting families with young children from birth through age five – an especially vulnerable population – against Flint Michigan’s lead contaminated water supply. HHS announced that $3.6 million in emergency funds were allotted to immediately expand Head Start and Early Head Start services in Flint so the program’s comprehensive health services could assist in mitigating the hazardous effects of Lead on children and families.
- Invest in US STEM Event: In April, the White House, HHS, andInvest in US held an event at the White House on the importance of early STEM education. The White House received over 200 submissions of innovative early STEM work through the Invest in US challenge from leaders across the country, representing state and local entities, foundations, non-profits, media organizations, technology companies, research institutions, and museums.
- Speaker Ryan Visits Tulsa Educare:S. House Speaker Paul Ryan visited Tulsa Educare to tour classrooms and speak with a group of local early childhood education leaders. The school provides low-income families and their children with access to high-quality early learning and other comprehensive services. Tulsa is home to three state-of-the-art Educare schools, which currently serve over 500 children and families with a range of educational and adult engagement opportunities.
- ESSA Advocate Letter and Toolkit: In early May, nearly 50 advocacy organizations from across the country signed a joint letter in response to the United States Department of Education’s (ED) Request for Feedback on Guidance for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). FFYF used this opportunity to release a new resource, What Early Learning in ESSA Can Look like for States and Districts. The resource details new opportunities for local leaders to develop and expand access to high-quality early childhood education through the new education law. This is the latest of FFYF’s ESSA resources, which arm early childhood advocates and policymakers with a summary and analysis overview of ESSA, a comparison of ESSA with its predecessors, a breakdown of Preschool Development Grants, and more.
- Harvard Report: A new report released by Dr. Jack Shonkoff at Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child adds to the ever-growing bibliography of research supporting greater investment in high-quality early childhood education and development. This report, “presents a call to action to launch a new era of research & development in early childhood policy and practice in order to dramatically improve outcomes for young children and families—especially those dealing with serious adversity.” FFYF worked closely with the Center to release the report and highlight its prominence among top national organizations.
- Head Start Expansion: As part of the$570 million increase for Head Start in the FY16 Omnibus spending bill, the Office of Head Start announced that $294 million in competitive grant funds were available to all eligible grantees across the country by application.
- Senate Appropriations Spending Bill: The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $161.857 billion spending bill for fiscal year 2017, which included bipartisan measures to increase or sustain funding for core early learning programs. This was the first bipartisan spending bill passed out of the Senate committee in seven years.
- Learning Policy Institute Event: The Learning Policy Institute, in partnership with Council for a Strong America and the First Five Years Fund, hosted a forum in Washington, D.C. to discuss the Learning Policy Institute’s latest report,The Road to High-Quality Early Education: Lessons from the States. The Learning Policy Institute’s report provided the field with new information about what states can do to increase the quality of their programs, and more. Kris Perry provided opening remarks at the joint event highlighting the bipartisan nature of early childhood, the growth of state leadership, and the overwhelming public demand.
- Early Head Start – Child Care Partnerships: Late this month, the Offices of Child Care and Head Start announced a new $135 million opportunity for Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership (EHS-CCP) and Early Head Start (EHS) Expansion grants. EHS-CCPs support states and communities in expanding high quality early learning and development opportunities for infants and toddlers.
- Invest in US Dual Language Learners Event: Early childhood advocates, representatives from the business and scientific research community, and leaders from the Obama administration came together at the United Way Center for Excellence in Early Education in Miami, FL to support and discuss current challenges and future actions necessary to improve the early learning experiences of dual language learners (DLL). The White House, Too Small to Fail, and the Invest in US campaign co-hosted the event, which provided early childhood supporters an overview of the current state of early learning for DLL students and opinions on next steps to improve education for this population.
- FFYF National Poll: For the fourth year in a row, FFYF released the results of a national bipartisan poll. The poll found that in the midst of an angry and polarized election, 90% of voters agree on one thing: Congress and the next president should work together to make quality early childhood education more accessible and affordable to low- and middle-income families. That included 78% of Trump supporters and 97% of Clinton supporters. The First Five Years Fund’s annual national poll showed that early childhood education is one of the best ways for candidates to connect with voters because it is one of their top priorities–regardless of party.
- House Appropriations Spending Bill: On July 14, 2016, the House Appropriations Committee approved a $161.6 billion spending bill for fiscal year FY2017. The bill provided increased funding for early learning programs, including Head Start and Child Care, while also sustaining funding for Preschool Development Grants.
- Advocates Weigh In On ESSA Proposed Regulations: On August 1st, FFYF and over 30 national and state organizations formally responded in joint comments to ED’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) addressing Accountability and State Plans in ESSA. The joint letter intended to clarify where the regulations could facilitate state-access to federal funding. These funds will allow states to further their work on developing and implementing systems that promote school readiness by investing in the nation’s youngest learners.
- ED/HHS Invest in Positive Behavioral Interventions: In response to the high rate of preschool suspension and expulsion, ED and HHS released ajoint policy statement. The statement spoke to the gravity of the issue and called upon early learning programs, districts and states to establish policies that promote positive behavioral interventions. The joint commitment by ED and HHS was reinforced by the early learning advocacy community. Led by NAEYC, over 30 national organizations, including FFYF, signed on in support of Standing Together Against Suspension & Expulsion in Early Childhood.
- Early Learning Challenge States Quality Ratings: Secretary John King led the Early Learning Challenge Tour, which included visits to two Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge states, Colorado and Delaware, and the release of the2015 Progress Update for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC). Recognizing the critical role access to a continuum of high-quality early learning opportunities can have on an individual child’s academic, health, and social outcomes, in addition to benefitting families and the country at large, the RTT-ELC states have leveraged this federal investment opportunity to more than double the number of programs rated as high- -quality.
- National Early Childhood Briefing with The Atlantic: In late September, FFYF sponsored an event with The Atlantic: Politics & Policy to discuss the ABC’s of Early Childhood. The event featured two panel discussions about what this unprecedented election season might mean for early learning and care inside the beltway. Featured panelists included Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas, Republican Congressman Buddy Carter of Georgia, Democratic political strategist Hilary Rosen and Republican journalist and commentator Mary Katharine Ham.
- State Poll Releases: The First Five Years Fund also released state polls this month in key battleground states, including Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Ohio. Similar to our national polling data, voters across all four state believed we should prioritize making sure there is sufficient funding for needs such as education, specifically in early childhood. Our data also found that there is overwhelming support, with little opposition, for a federal plan that helps states and local communities provide better access to early childhood education. The FFYF team worked with key state advocates on the ground to deploy these results, place local op-eds and push local advocacy efforts.
- Appropriations Advocate Letter: Over 300 state and local advocates united in urging Congress to build on past efforts by providing the highest feasible funding levels for early learning. The FY2017 Appropriations letter backed by early childhood organizations from all 50 states emphasized what’s at stake and strongly urged that early learning programs be provided the highest feasible funding levels in order to ensure that every child in this country, especially those from low-income families, has access to high-quality early childhood education and child care opportunities, such that they enter kindergarten ready to learn and succeed in life.
- ESSA Guidance: ED issuednon-regulatory guidance for early learning in the ESSA. The Department’s guidance described in greater detail what states and local educational agencies (LEAs) can do to leverage the allowable uses in order to expand opportunities to support America’s youngest learners. The intentional inclusion of early learning in ESSA signifies a critical shift and acknowledges the work already being done at the state and local levels.
- Head Start Program Performance Standards: Following the release of the Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) in September, FFYF released a new resource that provided an overview of the quality components of the 2016 HSPPS Final Rule. The new HSPPS incorporate up-to-date research and best practices while allowing for locally-driven decisions that respond to children’s needs in the context of their community. These standards will improve program quality, reduce the burden on programs, and improve regulatory clarity and transparency. Additionally, they provide a clear road map for current and prospective grantees to support high-quality Head Start services and to strengthen the outcomes of the children and families who receive these services.
- FFYF Releases Policy Framework: Immediately after the election, the First Five Years Fund hit the ground running by working with Congress and engaging the new Trump Administration. To help kick-start a solution-driven conversation on early childhood education, the First Five Years Fund released our “Early Childhood Education Policy Framework.” This framework provides ideas for how the Trump Administration and incoming Congress could create a well-financed continuum of high-quality early learning and care for children from birth through age five by improving existing programs, addressing concerns related to the cost of quality, and building better partnerships between the federal government, states, and local communities. Additionally, FFYF released a new video, “Plan on Solutions,” which highlights the unparalleled importance of reaching children as early in their lives as possible and highlights opportunities for policymakers to ensure children birth through age five have access to high-quality early learning and care.
- Preschool Development Grants: In response to ED and HHS announcement that all 18 states awarded Preschool Development Grants (PDG) would receive their third year of continuation funds, Kris Perry, Executive Director of the First Five Years Fund (FFYF), released a statement highlighting the importance of the program. IN this statement she underscored how PDGs support low-income and working American families by helping states build, improve, and promote access to high-quality early childhood education.
- President Obama Signs Temporary Spending Bill: Earlier this month, President Obama signed the continuing resolution passed by Congress. This temporary spending bill provides critical support for high-quality early learning and care programs for our nation’s children and families. FFYF released a statement applauding Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who continue to support early childhood investments that ensure all children have the opportunity to learn and thrive.
- Heckman Finds ECE Programs Producer Higher Economic Returns: Nobel Laureate Professor James J. Heckman released new research this month showing early childhood education can produce higher economic returns than previously established for preschool programs serving 3 and 4 year olds. Professor Heckman’s new study follows up on his analysis of the health benefits of the ABC/CARE programs – quantifying the economic gains of child care and adult health outcomes along with education, employment and sociability. Furthermore, the research shows that high-quality programs for low-income children from birth through age five can deliver a 13% return on investment, a substantial increase from the 7-10% as indicated by previously calculated data.