Special Report
Early Childhood

Government Programs Undergird Early-Ed. Priorities

By Madeline Will — January 03, 2015 4 min read
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Programs at all levels of government—federal, state, and local—provide a wide range of direct and indirect early-childhood and early-education services. They range from sweeping anti-poverty initiatives that deal with wellness, readiness, and whole-family issues to targeted school-based educational programs. Here’s a look at some major federal early-childhood efforts, both long-standing and proposed, as well as a sampling of significant state and local initiatives:


Head Start:
Born in 1965 as part of the War on Poverty, Head Start provides preschool programs and health and nutrition services to low-income children and their families. The program received a $1 billion boost in funding in the fiscal 2014 budget, bringing it to about $8.6 billion. Of that increase, $500 million went to Early Head Start, which serves children from birth to age 3. The money is aimed at setting up Early Head Start-Child Care partnerships, which will allow Early Head Start programs to partner with local providers and centers to improve program quality.

Child Care and Development Block Grants:
The program, created in 1990, provides grants to states to help low-income, working families pay for child care. The fiscal 2014 federal budget allocated roughly $5.3 billion for the program, including a $154 million boost from fiscal 2013. A reauthorization in November updated the requirements on state background checks for providers and will require states to set aside more money for program improvement.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act:
This federal grant program was originally enacted in 1975 to help states provide special education and early intervention services to children with disabilities. Section 619, Part B of the IDEA pays for children ages 3-5, while Part C of the Act helps states provide early-intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities.

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965:
Title I funds are aimed at high-poverty districts and schools and distributed under a complex federal formula. Districts or schools can use those funds to start a preschool program for eligible children and can also coordinate the funds to support other preschool programs, such as Head Start. A Title I school can use all or part of its Title I money to operate a schoolwide or targeted preschool program for eligible children, while a school system can reserve only a portion of its Title I funds for a preschool program for the whole district or a portion.


  • Preschool for All: In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama announced a 10-year, $75 billion commitment for a major expansion of states’ early-childhood-education programs, Preschool for All. The proposed money might come from raising federal tobacco taxes, but Congress first has to approve the spending.
  • Race to the Top, Early Learning Challenge: Funded under the administration’s Race to the Top competitive-grant program aimed at spurring state-level improvements, the Early Learning Challenge has had three phases so far. Overall, 20 states have won roughly $1 billion in grants.
  • Preschool Development Grants: In December, the administration announced that 18 states won a $250 million preschool-development-grant competition. Five states with small or no state-funded preschool programs split a share of $80 million in development grants, while 13 states that have larger state-funded preschool programs split expansion grants totaling $160 million.
  • Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships: The initiative connects Early Head Start grantees with center-based and family-child-care providers that meet performance standards and provide full-day services. The effort is intended to expand high-quality early learning to more than 100,000 low-income infants and toddlers. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced 234 preliminary grantees in December.


  • In two years, Michigan has more than doubled its state preschool spending—with an additional $65 million in both fiscal 2014 and 2015—aiming to expand its program that offers free, high-quality prekindergarten to 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families.
  • Mississippi, which was until recently the only Southern state without a publicly funded preschool program, set aside $3 million in state grants to school districts for pre-K programs.
  • In October, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced he would ask for $37 million from the state legislature in the 2017 budget to fund a voluntary, half-day, universal preschool program; the state currently does not have public preschool.
  • Georgia had the country’s first universal, voluntary state-funded pre-K program, and the calendar was restored to 180 days in the 2013-14 school year.
  • Oklahoma’s state-funded universal preschool program—every 4-year-old has free access to a year of high-quality pre-K—has been praised as a model for the rest of the country.
  • New York City has more than doubled the number of 4-year-olds who attend pre-K this school year, as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s effort to implement free, universal pre-K. The state provided $300 million to the city for the effort.
  • The District of Columbia ranks first in the nation in preschool access, with 94 percent of 4-year-olds enrolled in public preschool, according to data from the National Institute for Early Education Research.
  • Indianapolis has a $40 million, five-year plan to offer public preschool for up to 1,200 low-income children, who could start receiving preschool scholarships for the 2015-16 school year, pending the funding’s approval by the City-County Council.
  • Seattle voters just approved a measure that will levy a property tax on city homeowners to develop an affordable, voluntary preschool program. The tax will raise about $58 million over four years.
  • San Antonio launched a full-day preschool program in 2013-14 for low-income children, funded by an increase in the city’s sales tax.

Sources: Education Week; U.S. Department of Education; National Institute for Early Education Research


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