Early Learning: America's Middle Class Promise Begins Early
"If we make high-quality preschool available to every child, not only will we give our kids a safe place to learn and grow while their parents go to work; we'll give them the start that they need to succeed in school, and earn higher wages, and form more stable families of their own.
By the end of this decade, let's enroll 6 million children in high-quality preschool. That is an achievable goal that we know will make our workforce stronger."
-- President Barack Obama
The foundation of a thriving middle class is access to a strong education for every child beginning in the first few years of life. Sadly, millions of children in this country are cut off from quality early learning. The Obama administration is committed to closing this opportunity gap by working with states and local communities to expand high-quality early education programs for our nation's children.
There is a tremendous unmet need for high-quality early learning throughout the country. Across the country, fewer than three in ten 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. 1 Yet, the importance of early learning is clear. Studies prove that children who have rich early learning experiences are better prepared to thrive in kindergarten and beyond.
Children in countries as diverse as Mexico, France, and Singapore have a better chance of receiving preschool education than do children in the United States. In fact, the U.S. ranks 25th in the world in early learning enrollment. For children in the United States who do attend, quality varies widely and access to high-quality programs is even more limited in low-income communities. Doing better is more than just a moral and educational imperative; it's smart government. Every public dollar spent on high-quality preschool returns $7 through a reduced need for spending on other services—such as remedial education, grade repetition, and special education—as well as increased productivity and earnings for these children as adults.
High-quality early learning opportunities should be provided to all children in America so that they enter kindergarten ready to succeed in school and in life. In partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is working to significantly expand and improve services for young children and their families.
The Obama administration has proposed investments that will establish a continuum of high-quality early learning for children beginning at birth and continuing to age five, including:
- Providing access to high-quality infant and toddler care through Early Head Start-child care partnerships;
- Expanding voluntary evidence-based home visiting to support our country's most vulnerable families; and
- Developing a new partnership with states to provide voluntary, high-quality, full-day preschool for all 4-year-olds from families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.
Preschool for All: This proposed program is a voluntary, federal-state partnership that would be administered by the Department of Education and would build upon and strengthen existing state systems to provide all low- and moderate-income 4-year-olds with high-quality, publicly-funded preschool. Funded jointly by states and the federal government, the program would promote access to full-day kindergarten and encourage the expansion of high-quality programs to include children from middle-class families and children under four. The federal funding over 10 years is $75 billion. It would be fully paid for by raising federal tobacco taxes, which also would help to discourage youth smoking and save lives.To be eligible, states would have to demonstrate high-quality program standards, the ability to link preschool data with K-12 data, and early learning and development standards that aim to ensure children leave preschool ready for success in kindergarten. See the early learning fact sheets for more.
Funds would be allocated to states and then distributed to local entities—which may include school districts, Head Start programs, or licensed child-care providers to deliver high-quality preschool services. States would be required to provide matching funds and must meet certain criteria, such as high-quality preschool standards. The federal government would assume a higher share of the overall program costs in the initial years, with states gradually assuming more responsibility over time.
Preschool Development Grants: These competitive grants lay the groundwork for states to be prepared for Preschool for All formula funding. These grants will help states build the fundamental components of a high-quality preschool system or expand proven early learning programs in partnership with local governments, local education agencies, and other providers. States awarded grants in 2014 have ambitious and achievable plans to expand high-quality preschool programs for additional children from low- to moderate-income families in high-need communities.
A close partnership with Health and Human Services
ED and HHS work together to support state-level innovation through the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge program, which has funded more than one billion dollars to 20 states to develop and enhance coordinated early learning and development systems.
As we work to deliver on the promise of preschool for all, ED will collaborate closely with HHS to ensure that the expansion of high-quality preschool for 4-year olds is part of a cohesive and well-aligned system of early learning for children beginning with prenatal care and continuing through third grade.
- President Obama's Comprehensive Early Learning Agenda
- State Fact Sheets on Proposed Federal Funding for Preschool for All
- Office of Early Learning, Department of Education
- Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services
- Early Learning Policy
- Early Learning Research
- Homeroom Blog Posts and Articles on Early Learning
- Top 10 Reasons Why the Expansion of High-Quality Early Learning is Inevitable by Cameron Brenchley, director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education.
- Making Critical Investments in Our Youngest Citizensby Cecilia Muñoz, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council.
- Empowering Our Children by Bridging the Word Gapby Maya Shankar, Senior Advisor for the Social and Behavioral Sciences at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
- The Top Ten List for Why Expansion of High Quality Early Learning is Inevitable, February 23, 2014
- The Early Learning Field's Turning Point, June 27, 2013
- Secretary Duncan's Opening Remarks at "The Obama Preschool Initiative" Panel, May 29, 2013
- Secretary Duncan's Remarks at the National Head Start Association Conference, May 3, 2013
- A Level Playing Field, an Equal Starting Line, March 19, 2013
- Smart Investments in Early Learning, March 1, 2013
- Serving Preschool Children through Title I—Non-Regulatory Guidance [PDF, 4.29MB]
- Programs That Support Early Learning
- Early Learning Resources
- Federal Technical Assistance for Early Learning
- Early Learning Challenge Technical Assistance (ELC TA)
- ELCTA (Early Learning Challenge Technical Assistance)
- CEELO (Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes of the Comprehensive Center Program)
- ETCA Center (Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center)
- DaSy Center (The Center for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Early Childhood Data Systems)
- Supporting Working Families with Access to High-Quality Early Care and Education
1 National Center for Education Statistics. (December 2010). Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort, Longitudinal 9-month–Kindergarten Restricted-Use Data File. Washington, DC.