Today, hundreds of thousands more US children have access to high-quality early learning programs than when the Obama administration began. It was 2013 when President Obama announced his Preschool for All proposal that would establish a state-federal coalition to provide quality preschool for every four-year-old from low- and moderate-income households.
After the initiative was put in place, many states took action, and now all but four states offer preschool to early learners. In the 2015-2016 academic year, states increased funding for preschool programs by nearly $767 million more than the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
Federal investments in preschool have increased by more than $6 billion in early childhood programs from fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2016. Funded programs included Head Start, child care subsidies, programs for infants and toddlers with disabilities, and home visitation.
"A high-quality early education provides the foundation that every child needs to start kindergarten prepared for success," said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. "Because of historic investments from the Obama Administration, states and cities, more children—particularly those who have been historically underserved—now have access to high-quality early learning. But we can't stop there. We must continue our collective work to ensure that all children—regardless of socioeconomic status, race, background, language spoken at home, disability or zip code—have access to the opportunities that prepare them to thrive in school and beyond."
King continued by discussing this phenomenal progress during a visit to Pike View Early Childhood Center in North Little Rock School District in Arkansas. Arkansas is one of 18 states that received Preschool Development Grants from the US Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. Over 28,000 more young people are being served because of this program.
These children are in high-quality preschool classrooms or classrooms supported by well-qualified and compensated educators, with full-day programs, reduced class sizes or teacher to child ratios, evidence-based professional development, and comprehensive services.
This fall, the grant's second year will serve an additional 35,000 four-year-old students from low-income families who will receive the sound start needed for a successful school experience and a prosperous life.
Now, the Every Student Succeeds Act will include a preschool program that incorporates provisions to promote regulation in early learning among local communities. It will also align preschool with early elementary school and strengthen the function of teachers, leaders, and others who serve young children.
Still, there is more that needs to be done to ensure every family can access and enroll their youngsters in a quality preschool program. Currently, only 41% of all four-year-old young people and 16% of three-year-olds in the US are enrolled in publicly funded preschool programs such as Head Start or special education, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.
President Obama's 2017 budget proposal includes the expansion of high-quality preschool through such programs and initiatives as: Preschool for All for four-year-olds from low- and moderate-income households; Preschool Development Grants to assist states in laying the foundation for universal public preschool; the Child Care and Development Fund to offer quality child care for all youngsters in low- to middle-income families; and increasing the duration of Head Start services.