By Shantel Meek, Policy Advisor, Early Childhood Development
The beginning years of a child’s life are critical for building the early foundation needed for success later in school and in life. Leading economists and educators agree that high-quality early learning programs can help provide students with the opportunities they need to progress in their development and be successful inside- and outside the classroom.
Though we know early education is important for all young children, it is especially critical for children with disabilities. The research is clear: early developmental screening, identification and intervention are most effective in the early years. Because of this, though the President’s plan will benefit hundreds of thousands of young children, it has exponential promise for children with disabilities.
Making sure young children with disabilities have access to high quality early learning programs and assuring that early learning settings across the country foster an environment of inclusivity are priorities of this administration. Children with disabilities need high quality early learning opportunities in a safe and nurturing environment where they can learn and develop alongside their peers.
The Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships
To expand high-quality early learning opportunities in the years before preschool, the President called for an investment in Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships. These partnerships will support states and communities that expand the availability of Early Head Start and child care programs that can meet the highest standards of quality for infants and toddlers, serving children from birth to age 3. Partnership grantees will agree to meet Head Start standards and requirements, which will guarantee that at least 10 percent of program slots are filled with children with disabilities.
Extending and Expanding Evidence-Based, Voluntary Home Visiting Programs
President Obama has already committed $1.5 billion to expand home visitation to hundreds of thousands of children and families across all 50 states. The President will pursue substantial investments to expand these important programs to reach additional families in need. Learning in the natural environment is critical for young children with disabilities; an expansion of voluntary home visiting programs will allow more young children and their families, including those with disabilities, to receive support in children’s first classroom: the home.
Providing High-Quality Preschool for 4-Year-Olds
The President’s proposal will improve quality and expand access to preschool, through a cost sharing partnership with all 50 states. The partnerships will expand high-quality public preschool to reach all four-year olds from families at or below 200 percent of poverty. This bold expansion of Pre-K means that more 4-year-olds with disabilities will have access to high quality learning experiences where they can learn, play, and thrive alongside their peers.
In addition to these important benefits, an expansion in access to any of these programs means that more children will be screened and identified early and receive the services, supports and interventions they need to excel inside and outside the classroom. Finally, as a result of the Administration’s continued work to build and connect early childhood systems through the Early Childhood State Advisory Councils, Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, and other major initiatives, infrastructure will be in place and efforts will be made to assure that the new early learning programs are tightly linked with existing services for children with disabilities and their families, including Part B 619 and Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Though there is still much work to be done, President Obama’s Early Learning Proposal will bring our nation closer to providing a continuum of high quality early learning experiences to hundreds of thousands of children and families birth to school entry, preparing them to excel in school and beyond.