Early Learning: America's Middle Class Promise Begins Early
"I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. ... Let's do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let's give our kids that chance."
-- 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. Today, 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. [expand/collapse]
The goal is to provide high-quality early learning opportunities to all children in America so that they enter kindergarten ready to succeed in school and in life. In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Department of Education will work to significantly expand and improve services for young children and their families.
The Obama administration has proposed new investments that will establish a continuum of high-quality early learning for children beginning at birth and continuing to age five. The President's proposal includes:
- 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.
The down payment
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 included a down payment on the President's vision to expand early childhood education. The legislation restored much of the cuts to early learning programs as a result of sequestration, and provided new funding to HHS for Early Head Start programs to partner with local child care providers to serve more low-income infants and toddlers in high-quality programs. In addition, funding was provided through the Department of Education's Race to the Top program for Preschool Development Grants to states to develop, enhance, or expand access to high-quality preschool programs for children from low- and moderate-income families.
The President's Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Proposal
To ensure every child in America has access to high-quality early learning opportunities, the Obama administration has proposed new investments that build upon the progress of states and communities. Key elements of the 2015 budget include:
Preschool for All ($1.3 billion in mandatory funds, as part of a 10-year, $75 billion commitment): This new voluntary preschool federal-state partnership administered by the Department of Education will 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 also will 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 is fully paid for by raising federal tobacco taxes, which also will help to discourage youth smoking and save lives. Preschool for All-eligible states must have 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 ($500 million): The President is proposing $500 million—double last year's funding—for Preschool Development Grants. An additional $250 million would be provided through the Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative, for a total discretionary investment of $750 million. These grants will help states, local education agencies, and local governments build the fundamental components of a high-quality preschool system or expand proven early learning programs. To be eligible for funding, prospective grantees must describe how they will expand access to children from low- to moderate-income families, ensure an adequate supply of high-quality preschool slots and qualified teachers, monitor for continuous improvement, partner with local education agencies and other providers, and sustain high-quality services after the grant period. These competitive grants will lay the groundwork for states to be eligible for Preschool for All funding.
A close partnership with Health and Human Services
This additional funding builds on a close partnership between the Departments of Education and HHS. The two departments have worked together to support state-level innovation through the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge program, which has funded 20 states to develop and enhance coordinated early learning and development systems.[expand/collapse]
- Printable Two-page Version of this Early Learning page
- President Obama's Comprehensive Early Learning Agenda
- State Fact Sheets on Proposed Federal Funding for Preschool for All
Early learning: Frequently asked questions
- Office of Early Learning, Department of Education
- Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services
- Early Learning Policy
- Early Learning Research
- NewsletterEarly Learning at ED (Current and Archive)
- Homeroom Blog Posts and Articles on Early Learning
- We Have to Quit Playing Catch-Up by Libby Doggett and Linda K. Smith
- Congress Announces Bipartisan Proposal to Expand Early Ed Access by Meredith Bajgier
- Universal Preschool is a Sure Path to the Middle Class by Arne Duncan
- 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)
1 National Center for Education Statistics. (December 2010). Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort, Longitudinal 9-month–Kindergarten Restricted-Use Data File. Washington, DC.