Preserving and building on bipartisan progress

In a year when divisive rhetoric, calls for resistance, and partisan distrust dominate the political headlines across the country, public support for investing in quality early childhood education from birth through age five remained an overwhelmingly unifying issue among American voters – and lawmakers – of every political persuasion.

The past twelve months of advocacy and achievement build on bipartisan momentum that has been continuously growing over the past few years, and will continue to grow over the months and years to come.

Take a look at some of 2017’s early childhood education highlights:


JANUARY – Strong Commitment to Working Families

Congress started the year off with a strong commitment to early childhood. In January, U.S. Senators Burr (R-NC) and King (I-ME) introduced the bipartisan Promoting Affordable Childcare for Everyone (PACE) Act. The bipartisan bill would update the federal government’s child care-related tax credits to make them more useful to American families at a time when child care costs remained exorbitantly high.

While the current tax code includes numerous provisions to help families offset higher education costs, very few incentives exist to offset early childhood education expenses. FFYF saw promise in the PACE Act and released a resource, “Tax Proposals That Support Working Families,” which outlined how Congress and the Trump Administration could use the tax code to expand access to quality early learning and care. Following this release, FFYF and a diverse coalition of children’s advocacy groups, businesses and financial institutions, released a report with similar tax policy recommendations aimed at expanding access to high-quality early learning in the U.S.


FEBRUARY – State and Local Leadership

Over a dozen governors across the country continued to embrace early childhood education, explicitly highlighting their support for greater investments during their State of the States addresses.

Early childhood education also took center stage this year at the National Governors Association (NGA) annual Winter Meeting. America’s governors, led by Governors Bentley (R-AL) and Inslee (D-WA), touted the importance of investing in the early years. “Governors believe that early childhood education is the foundation of a successful life and, increasingly, a strong economy,” said Governor Bentley. “That is why we chose to devote the opening session of our 2017 Winter Meeting to this topic, to raise awareness about this crucial policy area with broad bipartisan support.”

Additionally, FFYF was joined by a number of national and state early learning leaders in submitting a  letter to the leaders of the House Education & Workforce and Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions committees, showcasing some of the exemplary efforts by educators, school and district leaders, policymakers and other stakeholders who are responsible for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Early childhood education is embraced by governors and elected leaders in red and blue states alike as an efficient and effective way to strengthen families, fight poverty, and increase education, health and economic outcomes.


MARCH – Appropriations 

Educare DC’s Executive Director, Pyper Davis, testified before the House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (L-HSS) Subcommittee,  offering firsthand experience supporting the need for Congress to increase funding for early childhood programs in FY2018. Davis emphasized the critical need for all children, especially low-income children, to have access to affordable, high-quality early learning and care from birth through age five. Additionally, Steven Dow of CAP Tulsa, urged the L-HHS subcommittee to increase federal funding to better meet the needs of eligible children and ensure high-quality programing. Later that month, Diana Rauner, President of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, testified before the House Ways and Means committee on the importance of MIECHV and the need for reauthorization and increased funding.

FFYF also signed onto a community advocacy letter for increased ECE support in FY2018 appropriations bills. The letter calls on Chairman Blunt, Ranking Member Murray, Chairman Cole, and Ranking Member DeLauro for substantial new funding to address children and families’ urgent unmet needs for child care and early education opportunities through Child Care and Development Block Grant, Head Start, Early Head Start and other early childhood programs.


APRIL – ECE Research

In early April, the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child released new research showing that significantly more neural connections are made in the brain during the early years of life than previously thought. The Center’s Dr. Jack Shonkoff and his team had previously found that the brain makes 700-1000 new neural connections per second in the first few years of life. Upon further research, the Center’s has now found the number to be over 1 million connections per second.

In the time since the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed into law with bipartisan support at the end of 2015, states began the early implementation process by engaging with stakeholders and developing state plans. Seventeen states submitted their ESSA State Plans to the U.S. Department of Education for the first round deadline. States have the opportunity to use federal dollars to invest in early learning, enabling them to build upon local innovations to coordinate an early childhood system and lets states take the lead on increasing access to preschool. The departure from NCLB’s federal emphasis means that states will take on more decision-making responsibilities and will be able to address early learning needs as they exist within a state and district’s specific context. A review of State ESSA Plans shows that states are acting on the newly elevated early childhood education opportunities in the law. While not mandated by law, states are electing to use ESSA funds to build on state and local early learning efforts. The new law equips states with added flexibility to strengthen and expand connections between ECE and elementary school. One such example of states voluntary investment in ECE through ESSA includes the sixteen states that identified ECE as an important element to consider for school improvement under Title I. This is just one of several examples demonstrating how states are leveraging ESSA to further build on ECE initiatives.


MAY – Bipartisanship in Washington 

FFYF, in cooperation with the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, convened a bipartisan Congressional briefing on the importance of early childhood education. Hill staffers from both sides of the aisle, federal program specialists, and early learning advocates came together on Capitol Hill to hear a panel of experts discuss their experiences around one of the best ways to invest in America’s future: quality early childhood education.

Similarly, bipartisanship on the Hill continued as Congress passed the FY2018 omnibus appropriation bills, which increased or maintained existing funding for early learning programs for the fourth consecutive year.


JUNE – FFYF Poll and MIECHV   

FFYF released the results of our annual national poll in June, finding early childhood education is an issue that unites American voters and attracts support across the political spectrum. In fact, 79 percent of voters—including 80 percent of Trump voters and 79 percent of Clinton voters—want Congress and the administration to work together to improve the quality of child care and preschool, as well as make it more affordable for parents. Not surprisingly, strong support across party lines comes from voters’ understanding that high-quality early childhood education programs pay off in the long-run. Fully 69 percent of voters say high-quality early childhood programs lead to a larger pool of highly skilled workers in the long term.

The poll continues to be a useful tool to show the bipartisanship of our issue. In fact, the vice chairs of the National Governors Association (NGA) cited FFYF’s national poll in a bipartisan letter to committee leaders of the House Ed and Workforce and the Senate HELP committees asking for increased federal investment in early learning.


JULY – Tax Priorities

FFYF, together with 11 child care providers and Save the Children Action Network, sent a letter to U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and his colleagues on the Committee, urging lawmakers to ensure tax reform legislation incentivizes investment in high-quality early childhood education programs. The letter, which was sent in response to the Chairman’s call for comments on tax reform, encourages the Finance Committee to consider policies that expand access for low- and middle-income families struggling to afford quality child care across America.


AUGUST – Workforce and Childcare Investment and U.S. ED Agency Reform Taskforce 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce released a report in August that explores the role high-quality child care plays in the education and workforce pipeline. Business leaders, local Chamber members, and early learning advocates convened at the Chamber in to commensurate the report and the importance and economic benefit of high-quality child care. “By laying the crucial groundwork for tomorrow’s workforce and promoting a strong workforce today, high-quality childcare provides a powerful two-generation approach to building the human capital that a prosperous and sustainable America requires.”

In implementing a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch (Executive Order 13871), the U.S. Department of Education (ED) requested comments and recommendations to further improve agency operations that best serve the needs of America’s students. As a part of our ongoing work to increase access to high-quality early learning and care, FFYF submitted recommendations to ED’s Agency Reform Taskforce. Our recommendations reflect the importance of properly implementing the early learning initiatives and related programs under the Department’s charge in order to amplify agency’s efforts to promote student success.


SEPTEMBER – MIECHV and Child Care 

The urgency for MIECHV reauthorization escalated throughout the month of September with a looming September 30th deadline. In late September, a bipartisan group of Senators led by Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced S. 1829 to extend the MIECHV program. Shortly thereafter, a bipartisan majority of the House passed it’s version of MIECHV reauthorization legislation on September 26th.

Republicans and Democrats alike from both chambers have praised the MIECHV program for the vital support it provides at-risk families, and for the cost savings it generates in eliminating the need for costly social spending later in life. 

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act (CCWFA) on September 14th in the Senate and House respectively. A comprehensive approach to increasing access to affordable early learning and care options, the bill would cap the cost of child care at seven percent of a family’s income that is under 150% of state median income. Reforms to teacher training, teacher pay and capacity-building in a mixed-delivery system are also components of the bill. As of December 20th, 29 democratic senators have signed onto the Senate bill (S. 1806), and 111 democratic representatives have signed onto the House companion bill. 


OCTOBER – Bipartisan Policy Center Report and IDEA Part C

The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) released expansive early childhood policy recommendations in late October. The BPC’s Early Childhood Initiative, led by former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) and former Representative George Miller (D-CA), combines their years of experience in government and provides key recommendations for supporting families, making child care affordable, and prioritizing early care workforce quality. Key recommendations from the report included the reauthorization of MIECHV, increased funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), and increased value and access to the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) to name a few. Overall, the report released by BPC recognizes the dynamic challenges American families face today and provides effective bipartisan solutions for the lawmakers to invest and support our nation’s greatest resource – our children.

A significant component to a quality early childhood education and development is access to early intervention services. Both Part B and Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) support education services for young children with disabilities by addressing individual needs within a developmentally appropriate context. In October, U.S. ED published notifications in the Federal Register maintaining implementation of Part C in order to continue the Department’s important work of supporting early intervention. Research shows establishing a strong foundation for learning and development in the critical early years reduces the need for more costly special education and related services at a later date. Ensuring that young children access inclusive early intervention during this critical period of development means that children will get the appropriate services and supports they need to be equipped for success in school.


NOVEMBER – Tax Reform 

Attention on Capitol Hill and across the country shifted to tax reform in early November. House Ways and Means Chairman Brady (R-TX) introduced the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which preserved the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) as it currently exists in the tax code, in addition to a minor increase to the Child Tax Credit (CTC). Additionally, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hatch (R-UT) introduced S. 2108, the Senate GOP’s tax reform bill, which also preserves the CDCTC in its existing form.

Following the introduction of both tax bills, FFYF along with the Save the Children Action Network, the National Association for the Education of the Young Child, and KinderCare, hosted a bipartisan, bicameral Hill briefing in partnership with the cosponsors of the Promoting Affordable Childcare for Everyone (PACE) Act – Senator Angus King (I-ME), Representative Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and Stephanie Murphy (D-FL).


DECEMBER – Preparing for Action 

As the year came to a close, it’s clear that bipartisanship is still a driving force behind the work to expand access to high-quality early childhood education. The final days of 2017 made for a packed legislative agenda. Congress finalized its tax reform legislation, and is still faced with establishing a budget deal for FY2018 in order to avoid a government shutdown, while questions about the future and funding of MIECHV remain unanswered. FFYF is fighting on all fronts, and as we look toward 2018, we are poised to protect the progress made in recent years, and pursue even greater achievements for America’s young children.