Making High-Quality Early Learning a National Priority

Secretary Duncan with preschool students at Edgewood Prep Today, a class of preschool children at the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur, Georgia, engaged in an interactive lesson on sizes and shapes with a special guest – President Barack Obama. The President toured the center, which serves children from infancy through four years of age, before discussing the importance of quality learning from the early years with a crowd of local educators.

The President elaborated on a new plan for early education, which aims to dramatically expand preschool – a priority for the U.S. Department of Education in the Administration’s second term and a topic that the President emphasized in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.

“In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children … studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, [and] form more stable families of their own,” the President stated. “[L]et’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.”

Despite the benefits of early learning, state funding per child for preschool programs has declined over the last decade, according to data from the most recent State Preschool Yearbook, published by the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Studies also show that children from low-income families are less likely to have access to high-quality early education opportunities and to enter kindergarten prepared for success – a situation that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has described as “education malpractice, economically foolish and morally indefensible.” The high costs of private preschool and a lack of public programs also narrows options for middle-class families.

To fulfill a commitment to our nation’s youngest learners at a time when fewer than three in 10 four-year-olds are enrolled in a quality preschool program, the Administration is proposing a series of new investments that will establish a continuum of learning for children from birth through age five. Major elements of the plan include:

  • Providing High-Quality Preschool for Every Child: A new cost-sharing partnership with all 50 states, managed by the Department of Education, will extend federal funds and expand high-quality public preschool to reach all low- and moderate-income four-year-olds from families whose incomes are at or below 200 percent of the poverty line.
  • Growing the Supply of Effective Early Learning Opportunities for Young Children: A new Early Head Start-Child Care partnership will support communities that extend the availability of Early Head Start as well as child care providers that can meet high standards of quality for infants and toddlers.
  • Expanding Evidence-Based, Voluntary Home Visiting: Voluntary home visiting programs enable nurses, social workers, and other professionals to connect families to services and educational support that can improve a child’s health, development, and ability to learn. The President’s plan extends these important programs to reach additional families in need.

The proposal also encourages states to provide additional opportunities for children to attend full-day kindergarten and extends important investments in the federal Head Start program – managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – which annually serves more than one million children across the country.

The President’s commitment to provide every child with access to quality early education builds upon the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Fund, a competitive grant program jointly administered by the Department of Education and HHS, which supports state efforts to raise the bar across early learning programs and to close the school readiness gap. Through the President’s proposal, the Department and HHS will continue to strengthen the quality of early education programs and assist states and districts in improving the alignment of preschool with K-12 education.

Building and expanding opportunities for learning in the early years is key to fostering a cradle-to-career education system. As Secretary Duncan has noted, “High-quality early learning is what we want for our own children – which means that it must be what we want for all children.”


  1. I was blown away by the article entitled “Digital Learning and Collective Impact in education. We are trying to bridge the gap between families and schools through the GEAR UP program and digital learning is an excellent way to get parents more involved to see how education technology can bring about advances in education. I am going to start looking into taking my cohort to this session next year.

  2. This initiative should start with preserving what is already paid for and in place. One of President Obama’s executive agencies, the Social Security Administration closing an early childhood education center in your hometown of Chicago on April 8. Windy City Kids is located in the Harold Washington Social Security Administration Building at 600 West Madison and has 50 preschool slots, over half of its capacity, dedicated to teaching our youngest children. It’s NAEYC accredited. A total disconnect between President Obama’s wishes, and what is actually happening with his executive agency.

  3. If you and President Obama support early childhood education as you state in this blog, then why is one of President Obama’s executive agencies, the Social Security Administration closing an early childhood education center in your hometown of Chicago on April 8? Windy City Kids is located in the Harold Washington Social Security Administration Building at 600 West Madison and has 50 preschool slots, over half of its capacity, dedicated to teaching our youngest children. It’s NAEYC accredited. Please help us, help you realize your vision of universal preschool. If our own federal government doesn’t support universal preschool, how can we expect this to be accomplished for all of America’s children? #savewck.

  4. I live in Iran. a country which pays no attention to childrens’ education,health,their family situation … .to this group of society that in my opinion are the most important innocent creaturs in the world.what can be more important than them in the universe to care about? they are the priority.we should regard all priority processing after regarding all aspects of children’s life all over the world. where is the UNICEF?what really are they doing? Unfortunately my English is not very good and I can’t express how much sad I am about the children who are living here or other countries whit a little better or worse situation.

    I really appreciate your president, Mr.Barack Obama.

  5. Education is clearly a critical element towards improving our society and placing our children on a better path. I am concerned however with the order of priorities here. In my opinion, there first needs to be a strong family unit with parental support in order for education to work. The percentage of children growing up in broken families with only one parent continues to steadily rise. We even have kids in school that are having kids and some schools with day cares. More resources need to be devoted towards teaching young men about the responsibilities of being a man and standing by one’s family. A good learning environment starts with a strong family foundation and preferably the support and involvement of two parents. That should be more of a national priority in my opinion.

    Best Regards,

    Charlie McKelvey
    Bethlehem, PA

  6. I would like to have a conversation with Secetary Duncan, he visited St. Louis Public School system last year. He praised the efforts about the progress of the school system.

  7. I work in a high school and our teen parents miss school constantly due to lack of childcare. They don’t qualify for childcare credit because they don’t work, and the Head Starts in the area are always full.

  8. I like to see the president taking part in educating our children.
    I am a retired Early childhood teacher. Maybe they will hire me back. I care very deeply about children.

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