Federal support for early childhood programs and childcare has expanded, which is especially important to low-income families.
Federal funding for early childhood education and care promotes three overarching policy goals: (1) increasing children’s access to services; (2) raising the quality of early childhood programs; and (3) fostering greater coordination among the many providers—public schools, center-based childcare, home-based childcare, Head Start, and more—of early childhood services.
This report summarizes 17 selected federal programs that are particularly important for early childhood education and care:
—Seven programs for which early childhood education and/or care is the sole purpose. These programs are dedicated exclusively to supporting early childhood education and/or childcare.
—Ten programs for which early childhood education and/or care is an allowable use. These programs are not dedicated exclusively to supporting early childhood education and/or childcare, but significant portions of their funding are used for that purpose.
Only 40 percent of 3-year-olds in the United States are enrolled in early childhood programs, far below the 70 percent average of other developed economies in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Access to these programs is particularly challenging for low-income families. Only 18 percent of children from such families are enrolled in high quality pre-kindergarten.
Meanwhile, approximately half of Americans live in “childcare deserts,” with little or no access to quality childcare.
On average, states provide childcare subsidies to fewer than 1 in 7 children in low-income families, and these subsidies cover only a fraction of the cost of providing high-quality childcare.
Congress has increased funding for Head Start, the Child Care and Development Fund, and IDEA Preschool Grants (Part B, Sec. 619)—all under the early childhood education and/or care is the sole purpose umbrella.
Congress has increased funding for Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies (LEA)s, Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, and Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)—all under the early childhood education and/or care is an allowable use umbrella.
While many challenges remain, there are hopeful signs of progress in all three early childhood and care policy areas. The federal government has made efforts to improve coordination among the nation’s early childhood providers, and has maintained or increased funding for many of the 17 programs outlined in the report.
Early Childhood Is Critical to Health Equity
Children in families with limited economic resources often face multiple physical and psychosocial hardships in early childhood that can dramatically damage their health, with