Making federal and state early learning investments more effective

Federal and state governments spend roughly $13 billion a year on early education and care, and a new report from the Center for American Progress recommends ways to address the “conflicting expectations, misaligned system requirements, and programmatic firewalls” that come from the varied sources of early education funding.

The report states: “[A] lack of coordination means that our federal investments are neither operating as efficiently nor as effectively as possible. As a result we are missing the opportunity to increase the number of young children who enter kindergarten with the skills, knowledge, and dispositions necessary for school and lifelong success.”

It has ten main recommendations at the federal level to make early education funding more efficient and effective. These are:

    1. Partner with states to align early learning standards that define expectations for all early learning programs.
    2. Invest with states to build assessments and assessment systems that demonstrate standards are being met. Increase consistency, quality, and system-wide access to federally procured and federally required locally procured technical assistance.
    3. Implement a more consistent, state-of-the-art approach to high-quality professional development for existing staff and help determine the optimal set of skills and knowledge that should be imparted in preparation programs for early childhood program staff.
    4. Improve early childhood data and harmonize reporting requirements to help increase knowledge of inputs and outcomes.
    5. Promote the replication of successful strategies to build continuity from early childhood programs to kindergarten and continue to remove data and other bureaucratic barriers to successful continuity systems.
    6. Build more federal, state, and local capacity to meet the increasing demand for culturally and linguistically appropriate services for children who are dual-language learners.
    7. Close the gaps in universal developmental screening across all federally supported early learning or care programs.
    8. Require expanded early learning program participation as a means of boosting performance of failing elementary schools.
    9. Establish a permanent office that creates a common infrastructure to advance system reforms for both the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education.

Washington is already working to coordinate its early education efforts. Right now, three main organizations–the the Department of Early Learning, Thrive by Five Washington and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction–are trying to better understand barriers to capacity and coordination for early learning providers, community members, and government agencies. As part of that work, they are conducting a survey (comments are due by July 31).

Read more about the report here, read the full report here (PDF), and read about Washington’s efforts here.

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