The Obama Administration has put a large premium on early childhood education. They tried to include a large program as a part of the 2009 economic stimulus package, but it failed to achieve the political support it needed and was cut from the package as one of the steps to lower the overall spending level. In 2011, the Administration called a White House meeting to announce the Race to the Top Early Childhood initiative, which they went forward with in 2012. Now they have announced additional funding for the states that won that competition.
But they have been doing more. Recently, they announced that the U.S. Education Department (USED) leadership on early childhood education would get a new head, Dr. Libby Doggett. She will be Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning in OESE (Office of Elementary and Secondary Education), and head up the Office of Early Learning.
According to the USED announcement, “her role as DAS, Libby will work closely with the White House on promoting President Obama’s plan to make high-quality, full-day preschool available to all four-year-olds from low- to moderate-income families through a new state-federal partnership. The plan is part of the President's proposal to create a birth to age five pipeline of services and supports, including investments in home visiting and Early Head Start-child care partnerships, to prepare children for success in kindergarten and beyond.”
In the spring the White House announced an early childhood initiative that included a $75 billion dollar program funded by an increase in the tobacco tax. While this will not happen during this Congress, it did increase attention on this issue and signal the President’s continued interest.
It is expected that the chair of the Senate education committee, Senator Harkin (D-IA) will hold a hearing on a new legislative initiative modeled on the President’ agenda this fall. In addition, the Head Start re-competition of local grants is continuing with their expanded emphasis on early education. And, the National Governors Association continues to develop model state legislation to support early childhood development.
While this issue is not getting the same attention as the rewriting of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or the Higher Education Act, it is continuing to build supporters.
Richard Long is the director of government relations at the International Reading Association.