EDUCATION

“If we want America to lead in the 21st century, nothing is more important than giving everyone the best education possible — from the day they start preschool to the day they start their career.”

—President Barack Obama

EDUCATION

Knowledge and Skills for the Jobs of the Future

Early Learning

Expanding access to high quality early childhood education is among the smartest investments that we can make. Research has shown that the early years in a child’s life—when the human brain is forming—represent a critically important window of opportunity to develop a child’s full potential and shape key academic, social, and cognitive skills that determine a child’s success in school and in life. 

Participation in high-quality early learning programs—like Head Start, public and private pre-K, and childcare—will provide children from all backgrounds with a strong start and a foundation for school success. These programs also generate a significant return on investment for society; numerous economic studies have documented a rate of return of $7 or more on each dollar invested through a reduced need for spending on other services, such as remedial education, grade repetition, and special education, as well as increased productivity and earnings for these children as adults. 

President Obama’s comprehensive early learning agenda invests in and strengthens early childhood education, care, and development for our nation’s youngest learners. It helps to prevent achievement gaps before they start, and invests from an early age in children as our most critical national resource.

Preschool for All

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to expand access to high-quality preschool to every child in America. As part of that effort, the President will propose a series of new investments that will establish a continuum of high-quality early learning for a child – beginning at birth and continuing to age 5. By doing so, the President would invest critical resources where we know the return on our dollar is the highest: in our youngest children.

The Preschool for All initiative will improve quality and expand access to preschool, through a partnership with all 50 states, to provide all low- and moderate-income four-year-olds with high-quality preschool, while encouraging states to serve additional four-year-olds from middle-class families. The initiative also promotes access to full-day kindergarten and high-quality early education programs for children under age four.

The U.S. Department of Education will allocate dollars to states based their share of four-year olds from low- and moderate-income families and funds would be distributed to local school districts and other partner providers to implement the program.

Learn more about the President Obama's comprehensive early learning agenda from the 2013 State of the Union Address.

Boosting the Quality of Child Care

Access to affordable, safe, quality child care is essential for parents who work: without it, many families are left with the untenable choice of leaving their children in substandard care, or risking loss of their jobs. Through the Child Care Development Fund, the federal government provides assistance to states to subsidize the cost of child care for low-income families and increase the supply, availability, and quality of that care. Nearly 1.6 million low income children and families receive assistance towards child care each month through this program.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act invested $2 billion in the Child Care and Development Fund to provide child care assistance for an additional 300,000 children and families during the height of the recession. These new investments also launched initiatives aimed at raising the quality of child care programs, empowering parents with information about the quality of child care programs, and providing pathways for the child care workforce for additional training and support.

In the 2013 State of the Union, the President announced further plans to grow the supply of high-quality early learning opportunities for children from birth to age 3, so that more children from low-income families can develop and learn from an early age, through Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships. This new $1.4 billion investment would support states and communities in expanding high quality early learning and development opportunities for infants and toddlers. Through these partnerships, Early Head Start grantees will partner with child care providers who agree to meet high standards of quality. The competitive grants would enhance and support early learning settings; provide new, full-day, comprehensive services that meet the needs of working families; and prepare children for the transition into preschool.

Learn more about the President Obama's comprehensive early learning agenda from the 2013 State of the Union Address.

Empowering Parents 

President Obama understands that families play the most important role in promoting the healthy development of their children, yet not all families are equipped with the information and support that help them create environments for their children to develop and learn.

The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, created under the Affordable Care Act, provides $1.5 billion over 5 years in funding to expand evidence-based home visiting programs in states to serve the most vulnerable children and families. This program makes home visitors available to connect families to a range of services — including health care, early education, early intervention and more — to better ensure that children are healthy and prepared for school and life. In addition, as part of the comprehensive child development services it provides, Head Start also provides services to families to support them in the important role of parent, as their child's first teacher. Head Start's family support approach recognizes that school readiness is a partnership between teachers and families, creating opportunities for parents to get the training and support they need to take a leadership role in the program, and in their children's education.

The President put forward a proposal to extend funding for another ten years in the 2013 State of the Union address. This program is critical in the improvement of maternal and child health outcomes in the early years, leaving long-lasting, positive impacts on parenting skills, children’s cognitive, language, and social-emotional development, and school readiness. An expansion of these efforts will help ensure that our most vulnerable Americans are on track starting at birth so that we are fully able to capitalize on later early learning program investments.

Learn more about the President Obama's comprehensive early learning agenda from the 2013 State of the Union Address.

Raising the Bar for Early Learning

The Obama Administration has invested in comprehensive improvements to state early learning systems through Race to the Top: Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC), a new competition that challenges states to deliver better coordination, clearer learning standards, and meaningful education and training for early educators. This program represents an unprecedented opportunity for states to focus on early learning and development systems in their states and build a more unified approach to supporting young children and their families. The overarching goal of the Early Learning Challenge is to make sure that more children, especially those with high needs, enter kindergarten ready to succeed.

States awarded RTT-ELC funds are working on the following reform priorities:

  • Developing successful state systems that support an ambitious early learning and reform agenda
  • Building high-quality, accountable programs that align and raise standards for existing early learning programs, including Head Start, public pre-K, childcare, and private preschools, and provide information to parents about the quality of programs
  • Promoting early learning and development outcomes for children, reflected in clear standards that detail what children should know and be able to do, and measured by comprehensive assessment systems
  • Building a great early childhood education workforce, supported by strategies to train and retain quality teachers, providers, and administrators
  • Measuring outcomes and progress, including the development of tools like comprehensive data systems and kindergarten entry assessments

To date, 14 states have received close to $6.3 million dollars in RTT-ELC grant funding.

Reforming and Expanding Head Start

Nearly 45 years after its inception, the Head Start program continues to represent one of the best investments to help our neediest children get a strong start in school and in life. Nearly one million children under the age of five benefit from Head Start services each year through grants provided by the Department of Health and Human Services directly to community-based agencies across the country. Head Start programs provide comprehensive child development services that foster children’s growth in social, emotional, cognitive and physical development, and monitor their progress in these areas to ensure that they are well prepared for kindergarten.The program makes it possible for the most vulnerable children in America to see doctors and dentists, obtain insurance, and receive immunizations against childhood diseases.

The Obama Administration has taken important steps to make Head Start services available to additional children. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, President Obama invested $2.1 billion in Head Start and Early Head Start.

The President has also made reform of the Head Start program a high priority. Our Administration has implemented new efforts to raise Head Start’s standards, focus on school readiness results, and promote accountability, including the launch of a new process designed to ensure that only the most capable and highest quality programs receive Head Start grants.