Early Childhood Education and Care

Two girls play while teacher looks on.

Federal support for early childhood programs and child care has expanded, which is especially important to low-income families.

 

 

The Issue

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 child care, home-based child care, 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 child care.

—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 child care, but significant portions of their funding are used for that purpose.

Key Statistics

  • 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 “child care deserts,” with little or no access to quality child care.

  • On average, states provide child care 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 child care.

  • 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.

Conclusion

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.