How Will the Federal Elections Impact Early Childhood Education?
As the effects of the 2010 season begin to seep in, one critical federal education policy component that we will monitor closely is the direction of early childhood education.
In September 2009, the House of Representatives passed a bill that appropriated $8 billion over eight years to help states develop and scale high-quality early childhood programs. The Early Learning Challenge Fund – sometimes referred to as the “baby Race to the Top” – would have provided almost twice the resources as those allocated to the Race to the Top program. Unfortunately, in budget negotiations, this was eliminated.
In August 2010, the Senate approved $300 million towards the fund. Speculation increased when Secretaries Duncan and Sebelius formed the Early Learning Interagency Policy Board. The Board, incorporating senior staff from the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, was established to create common indicators of success and increase coordination within federal early childhood programs. In addition, before the 2010 elections, 110 Representatives, including five Republicans, sent a letter to Rep. David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations panel that oversees K-12 spending, and top Republican Rep. Todd Tiahart of Kansas, to support the $300 million already approved by Senate lawmakers – demonstrating strong backing for the fund.
While the political viability of the fund remains in doubt, the reasons for supporting high-quality early learning programs are crystal clear. Quality early childhood experiences are critical to child development and generate a tremendous return—of about 7 to 1—on every dollar invested in greater earnings and fewer societal costs.
Within Delaware, however, high-quality early childhood education is not the norm, with our current system producing mixed results at best while showing little alignment to the K-12 system. There are efforts currently underway that, if enhanced by the Early Learning Challenge Fund, could increase the quantity and quality of early childhood education for all Delaware residents. These include, but are not limited to:
- Implementation of aligned early learning and K-12 standards;
- Establishment of a statewide early-learning quality rating system (STARS);
- Coordinated professional development for early childhood educators; and
- Implementation of kindergarten readiness assessments to improve early childhood instructional practices and inform kindergarten instructors on areas of need.
We hope legislators recognize that investments in America’s youth will pay tremendous dividends into the future – ones that will continue past their enrollment in early childhood programs and into adulthood through increased earnings potential and decreased societal costs to all of us. And we will continue to work in Delaware to position us competitively for this funding and to make progress for our youngest citizens.
This blog is the third in a three part series on the effects of the 2010 elections on federal education policy and implications in the First State. The first two blogs in the series can be found here and here.