Opinion
Education Opinion

Early-Childhood Policy: Fix the Federal Programs First

By Sara Mead — December 06, 2011 2 min read

Earlier this week, I wrote about what I believe are some significant shortcomings in the Obama administration’s Early Learning Challenge program. Today, I’d like to address an objection I’ve heard from some early childhood advocates who admit these shortcomings but say that ELC is still a critical victory because it represents a federal investment in building state early learning systems rather than the status quo. But the more I think about this strategy, then less I get why it makes sense.

In K-12 education, federal efforts to improve student achievement must work primarily by leverage changes in state policy and practice--because states, not the feds, are responsible for education, and the federal government provides only about 10% of K-12 funding. But that’s not the case in early childhood education, where the federal government provides the lion’s share of public spending through Head Start and child care subsidy programs.

That means the feds have a lot more ability to directly drive change in early childhood than in K-12--starting with Head Start, in which grantees receive money directly from the feds. Given the size of the program, the need of the participants served, and the amount of funding in play, it seems that the first step in federal early childhood policy should be maximizing the quality and impacts from Head Start funding. The recently finalized Head Start redesignation regulations are a good first step towards doing this, and may ultimately have a greater impact than ELC (that impact depends, of course, on a slew of implementation issues over the next few years, not to mention politics and funding). Similarly, it makes little sense for the federal government to create a new program to support increase coordination and alignment in early childhood programs when disparate federal regulations for Head Start, child care, Title I, and special education remain a major barrier to state and local efforts to improve such coordination. And we also need to face the reality that a substantial amount of child care subsidy funding is going to keep children in low-quality settings that may actually harm their development. Until the feds align their own policies to better support high-quality early childhood education, investing in state systems will have limited impact. Fixing these problems is by no means easy--particularly in the current political and budget environment--but we can’t make any progress in changing those dynamics if these topics remain outside the debate.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

Student Well-Being Webinar Boosting Teacher and Student Motivation During the Pandemic: What It Takes
Join Alyson Klein and her expert guests for practical tips and discussion on how to keep students and teachers motivated as the pandemic drags on.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Holistic Approach to Social-Emotional Learning
Register to learn about the components and benefits of holistically implemented SEL.
Content provided by Committee for Children
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Principals Can Support Student Well-Being During COVID
Join this webinar for tips on how to support and prioritize student health and well-being during COVID.
Content provided by Unruly Studios

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Washington Data Processing Representative - (WAVA)
Tacoma, Washington, United States
K12 Inc.
Software Engineer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
Proposal Writer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
CCLC Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: February 3, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 20, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read