President Obama’s Early Learning Initiative

The beginning years of a child’s life are critical for building the early foundation needed for success later in school and in life. Research shows that brain development is most rapid in the first years of life. Leading economists agree that high-quality early learning programs can help level the playing field for children from lower-income families on vocabulary, social and emotional development, while helping students to stay on track and stay engaged in the early elementary grades.

Children who attend these programs are more likely to do well in school, find good jobs, and succeed in their careers than those who don’t. And research has shown that taxpayers receive a high average return on investments in high-quality early childhood education, with savings in areas like improved educational outcomes, increased labor productivity, and a reduction in crime.

“In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children…studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own. We know this works. So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.”

—President Barack Obama, State of the Union, February 12, 2013

In 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 will propose a series of new investments that will establish a continuum of high-quality early learning for a child – beginning at birth and continuing to age 5. By doing so, the President would invest critical resources where we know the return on our dollar is the highest: in our youngest children.

Providing High-Quality Preschool for Every Child

The President is proposing a new federal-state partnership to provide all low- and moderate-income four-year-old children with high-quality preschool, while also expanding these programs to reach additional children from middle class families and incentivizing full-day kindergarten policies. "Preschool for All" will help close America’s school readiness gap and ensure that all children have the chance to enter kindergarten ready for success.

Growing the Supply of Effective Early Learning Opportunities for Young Children

To expand high-quality early learning opportunities in the years before preschool, the President will call for a significant investment in a new Early Head Start-Child Care partnership. Competitive grants will support communities that expand the availability of Early Head Start and child care providers that can meet the highest standards of quality for infants and toddlers, serving children from birth through age 3.

Extending and Expanding Evidence-Based, Voluntary Home Visiting

Voluntary home visiting programs enable nurses, social workers, and other professionals to connect families to services and educational support that will improve a child’s health, development, and ability to learn. President Obama has already committed $1.5 billion to expand home visitation to hundreds of thousands of America’s most vulnerable children and families across all 50 states. The President will pursue substantial investments to expand these important programs to reach additional families in need.

The President’s Commitment to Early Education

A zip code should never predetermine the quality of any child’s educational opportunities. Yet 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. By third grade, children from low-income families who are not reading at grade level are six times less likely to graduate from high school than students who are proficient. Often, the high costs of private preschool and lack of public programs also narrow options for middle-class families.

High-quality early childhood education provides the foundation for all children’s success in school and helps to reduce achievement gaps. Despite the individual and economic benefits of early education, our nation has lagged in its commitment to ensuring the provision of high quality public preschool in our children’s earliest years. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that the United States ranks 28th out of 38 countries for the share of four-year olds enrolled in early childhood education. And fewer than 3 in 10 four-year-olds are enrolled in high-quality programs.

Launching a New Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership Program

As part of President Obama's Early Education Plan, we will support states and communities in expanding high quality early learning to tens of thousands infants and toddlers through the Early Head Start – Child Care Partnerships. Through these partnerships, Early Head Start grantees will partner with center-based and family child care providers who agree to meet Early Head Start Program Performance Standards and provide comprehensive, full-day, full year high-quality services to infants and toddlers from low-income families. This strategy, combined with an expansion of publicly funded preschool education for four-year olds, will ensure a cohesive and well-aligned system of early learning for children from birth to age five.

Learn More about the President's Plan

The White HouseOffice of Child CareOffice of Head Start •
Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting ProgramDepartment of Education

Last Reviewed: November 15, 2016