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President Obama’s Plan for Early Education for All Americans

President Obama visits an early education classroom in Georgia.The first years of a child’s life are critical for building the foundation needed for success later in school and in life. Children in high quality early learning programs are more likely to do well in school, find good jobs, and succeed in their careers. Unfortunately, studies show that children from low-income families are less likely to have access to high-quality early education, and less likely to enter school prepared for success.  A zip code should never determine the quality of any child’s educational opportunities. 

Leading economists agree that taxpayers receive a high return on investments in high-quality early childhood education, with savings in improved educational outcomes, increased labor productivity, and a reduction in crime.  Despite the individual and economic benefits of early education, our nation has lagged in its commitment to high quality public preschool. Often, the high costs of private preschool and lack of public programs narrow the options for middle-class American families.

That’s why, during his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to expand access to high-quality preschool to every child in America. As part of that effort, the President proposed a series of new investments that will establish a pathway to school entry based on high-quality early learning for all children – beginning at birth and continuing to age 5.  These investments will build on the President’s commitments to a comprehensive early learning agenda that include the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, increased accountability in Head Start and Early Head Start, and targeted quality improvements in child care programs.

Implemented through the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at HHS and the Department of Education, the President’s targeted approach would include: 

  • Providing High-Quality Preschool for Every Child:  The President is proposing a new federal-state cost-sharing partnership with all 50 states to provide all low- and moderate-income 4-year old children from families at or below 200 percent of poverty with high-quality preschool. These programs will also expand to reach additional children from middle class families and will provide incentives for full-day kindergarten.
  • Growing the Supply of Effective Early Learning Opportunities for Young Children: To expand high-quality early learning opportunities, the President will call for a significant investment in a new Early Head Start-Child Care partnership.  Through ACF, competitive grants will support communities that expand the availability of Early Head Start and child care providers who can meet the highest standards of quality for infants and toddlers.
  • Extending and Expanding Evidence-Based, Voluntary Home Visiting: The President is proposing to expand the Administration’s evidence-based home visiting initiative. Jointly administered by ACF and the Health Resources Services Administration, states and Tribes are implementing voluntary programs that provide nurses, social workers, and other professionals to meet with at-risk families in their homes and connect them to assistance that impacts a child’s health, development, and ability to learn.

Taken together, the President’s plan will maintain and build on current Home Visiting and Head Start investments to serve a greater share of infants, toddlers, and 3-year olds, while working with states to expand preschool programs to serve a greater share of 4-year olds.

The President is investing critical resources where we know the return on our dollar is the highest --in our youngest children. This unprecedented effort to improve the quality and increase the access of critical early care and education programs will yield long-term benefits for our nation’s future.

Linda K. Smith is the Deputy Assistant Secretary and Inter-Departmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In this role she provides overall policy coordination for the Head Start and Early Head Start Program and the Child Care and Development Fund, as well as serving as the liaison with the U.S. Department of Education and other federal agencies.

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