Early Learning

Researchers, practitioners and elected officials on both sides of the political aisle agree – high-quality early childhood education is among the smartest investments that can be made in a child’s life. Children who participate in quality preschool are more likely to read, write, and do math at grade level, graduate from high school, and grow up healthy to secure a good job. That’s why the Obama administration invested nearly $6 billion to support states in expanding high-quality early childhood care and education. Investments were largely made in three key areas:

With a $4 billion boost and revamped requirements, Head Start, the largest federal early childhood initiative, grew its enrollment by 189 percent – to 211,000 children.

In 2011, the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant program launched, investing $1 billion in the design and adoption of comprehensive early learning systems in 20 states. By 2015, these 20 states reported a 263-percent increase in enrollment compared to the start of the grants, encompassing some 267,000 children with high needs. Another 243,000 children – or an 86-percent increase – were enrolled in the highest-quality childcare programs over the same time period.

In 2013, President Obama further expanded these efforts. This time through a partnership program with states: The Preschool Development Grants, with an additional $500 million toward early childhood funding. Awards were made to 18 states and 230 communities. By the fall of 2016, these grants helped enroll 63,000 four-year-olds in high-quality programs.

From 2009-2015, 31 states increased the number of 4 year-olds enrolled in state-funded preschool. Nearly every state in the nation has developed a plan to improve program quality and increase access to early childhood education.

A nationwide effort is needed to sustain the progress made in recent years. Before leaving office, President Obama announced Invest in US — a challenge that goes beyond government to broaden investments in our youngest learners. Invest in Us was a call to the public and private sectors, business leaders, philanthropists along with elected officials and others to strengthen communities and the country by growing great early education programs. By the end of 2016, the initiative received more than $340 million in new private funding.

And within government, administration officials worked with Congress to make certain the landmark, reauthorized federal education law – the Every Student Succeeds Act – would maintain the administration’s sense of urgency around expanding high-quality early childhood education. For the first time, federal education law includes provisions to recognize the pivotal role early learning plays within the education pipeline. States are now allowed flexibility to apply federal Title I funding to early childhood education and a version of the Preschool Development Grants will be preserved as a resource to improve both quality and access to education for our earliest learners.