Early childhood education once again emerged as the bipartisan winner in a year marked by deep political polarization. In fact, Congress gave early childhood education more attention this year than almost any other issue — and capped it off by matching good intentions with great funding for programs from birth to preschool and beyond.
Recognizing the critical need for early health and learning, Congress reauthorized the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program (MIECHV) for two additional years. Federal support enables states to provide these voluntary, community-based programs to disadvantaged children and families. MIECV continues funding supports or highly effective home visiting programs that provide low-income parents with the education, health, social service and child development resources they need to promote their children’s healthy development.
Most importantly, early childhood education was recognized as a critical part of the nation’s education system in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The nation’s largest education bill now includes historic support for states that have been making early childhood education a top priority.
ESSA puts a strong emphasis on encouraging greater early learning and elementary education alignment—ensuring that children will arrive at kindergarten ready to learn and schools will be better prepared to build upon that success. It supports state and local efforts to strengthen standards alignment; enhance local flexibility and decision-making by making early learning an allowable use of education funding; support early childhood-focused professional development for elementary teachers and school leaders; and calls on states and districts to evaluate their local needs and embed early learning within their Title I plans. All of this will help early learning programs and K-12 systems collaborate with each other to achieve better results for children.
Congress capped off a year of reauthorizing key early childhood programs by appropriating nearly $1 billion in new money for early childhood education in the bipartisan Omnibus spending bill.
Funding for the major federal programs that support critical early learning opportunities — Early Head Start and Head Start — have been significantly increased from last fiscal year. What’s more, within the increased investment in Head Start are federal dollars specifically allocated for Early Head Start, demonstrating federal commitment to supporting early learning from the start.
Preschool Development Grants, which have been incredibly popular in the states, were officially authorized as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and funded by the Omnibus spending bill. Preschool Development Grants provide invaluable support to states, communities and programs working to prepare low-income children for kindergarten and their later development and learning.
2015 marks a true turning point for child development in the United States: a moment in troubled times when a Congress came together and acted on overwhelming research from experts, demand from voters, and actions taken by state and local leaders across the country to support the development of children from birth to age 5.
There is still great promise for a country that invests in its greatest natural resource—its children. Let’s keep that promise for years to come.
Kris Perry is the executive director of the First Five Years Fund.