Two New Reports Show Increased Need for Federal Investments in Early Learning & Care

Two new reports from the U.S. Departments of Education and Health & Human Services, as well as the Government Accountability Office, shine light on the need for greater federal investments in early childhood learning and care.

The first of the two reports comes from the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Health and Human Services (HHS). The report, “The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education Joint Interdepartmental Review of All Early Learning Programs for Children Less Than 6 Years of Age,” makes it clear that the current federal early learning programs are not funded enough to meet the needs of our nation’s youngest learners and their families.

The report reviewed all federal programs for early learning and care, and found that a total of eight programs have the primary purpose of promoting early learning for children birth through age six. While many programs serve similar age spans, such as Early Head Start and IDEA part C, many have different purposes, serve different populations and/or offer different services. Additionally, a number of federal programs may allow funding, but the use of funds for this purpose is not the primary focus, often putting early learning last.

The second report, Access to Subsidies and Strategies to Manage Demand Vary Across States, from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, provides information on the reach of the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) program, the single largest funding source of child care assistance in the United States.

The report examined the participation in the CCDF program across the United States in 2011-2012 and found that approximately 14.2 million children under the age of 13 were in families estimated to be eligible for CCDF subsides in an average month. Also when looking at all eligible children, those who received subsidies were found to be younger (under age 5) and low-income (families below federal poverty guidelines). Unfortunately the number of families receiving subsidies did not adequately reflect those who were eligible.

Both reports clearly highlight the increased need for greater federal investment in early learning and care. Without subsidies or the ability to use funds where needed, children and families are left behind. The findings from both reports can help guide the new administration and Congress to maximize current and future investments to increase the quality of and access to early learning for children birth through five.