What the President’s Early Learning Initiative Means for ACF Programs

President Obama plays with children at Yeadon Regional Head Start Center in Yeadon, PAThe President’s announcement on early education at the State of the Union sent a wave of excitement rippling through the field of early childhood development. Various stakeholders, from parents and providers, to policy advocates and leaders in the field, applauded the President’s call to increase access to- and raise the quality of- early care and education programs nationwide. President Obama’s focus on expanding and improving programs that prepare our youngest children for school and life is unlike any presidential commitment seen in recent years.

With the wave of excitement for this new framework, also came feelings of anticipation and questions about details. In the days since the announcement there have been countless media articles speculating about program administration, funding processes, and the quality and content of services provided. While some details are yet to be decided and announced, there is definite assurance on others.  Among the issues that have been decided are the following:

Head Start will not be block granted: Providing investments directly to local communities to care for and educate their youngest children is an approach that has been successful in administering Head Start programs. It has allowed a uniform set of high quality standards and accountability to drive comprehensive programs for our youngest, most vulnerable children. The Administration has no plans of block granting the Head Start program.

The federal administrating body for Head Start and child care will not change: The Early Childhood Office at the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will remain the administrating body of Head Start, child care, and other programs and initiatives aimed at supporting families and children birth to four.

The Administration remains committed to providing comprehensive early childhood learning programs: Taking a “whole child” approach to early education is key. A child can only be ready to learn and excel in school if they are healthy and happy. That is why incorporating health and related support services to all early education programs is a critical component of this effort.

The lowest income and most vulnerable children will continue to be targeted: The Administration remains strongly committed to assuring that the most vulnerable children are targeted for the highest quality early care and education programs.  The Administration considers early education an anti-poverty effort and remains steadfastly committed to not letting children from the lowest-income families slip through the cracks.

The Administration remains strongly committed to encouraging parent engagement: Parents are at the foundation of healthy development and academic achievement. That is why making sure parents are deeply engaged in their child’s education, from birth through the school years, remains a top priority for the Administration.

As speculation continues, families, providers, and advocates alike can be assured that the Administration remains strongly committed to focusing on the “whole child”. Expanding Early Head Start programs, building partnerships between Early Head Start and child care programs nationwide, and increasing the reach of home visiting programs, will assure that the needs of children and families are met. President Obama’s framework, by assuring high quality and wide scope access to early learning programs for our youngest children, will assure that our next generation of productive citizens will be prepared to thrive in school and beyond. This is an exciting time for our country and for our future.