Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children
Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

Early education policies are all over the map — literally and figuratively. While some states are making big investments in very young children, others lag behind.

How are specific states doing? The Ounce of Prevention Fund, a national advocacy organization, takes a look in its August 2016 State Policy Update. It’s a “mini-update” that “provides a snapshot of early childhood care and education budget and policy changes in states during the 2016 legislative sessions as of July 2016.”

This year, “numerous states across the country made major policy changes and investments that advanced access to high-quality early learning programs,” The Ounce says, pointing to:

• Rhode Island, where “codified key elements of the state’s home visiting system” became law “through the passage of The Rhode Island Family Home Visiting Act. The state’s Department of Health is required to work with other state agencies to identify vulnerable families and offer them the opportunity to enroll in evidence-based home visiting programs.”

• In Nebraska, tax credits abound. “The School Readiness Tax Credit Act will create two new state tax credits… for early childhood programs and individual early childhood professionals in 2017.”

In addition: programs that “serve children at risk and demonstrate high quality will be eligible for a nonrefundable tax credit, and early childhood professionals demonstrating competencies classified under Nebraska’s Professional Record System are eligible for a refundable tax credit.”

• And in California, policymakers “continued to restore and reinvest millions of the $1 billion lost in early care and education funding during the recession. The additional $147 million secured for fiscal year 2017 was complemented by an unprecedented multiyear investment plan that is expected to grow to more than $500 million in 2019-20.”

Meanwhile, other states have faced funding and policy challenges.

“Kansas fought off attempts to abolish the Children’s Initiatives Fund and Kansas Endowment for Youth or to sweep funds into the State General Fund.”

“Illinois never passed a comprehensive budget for FY2016 or FY2017, with human services programs such as home visiting receiving only partial funding and child care services being paid through a combination of court-ordered spending and federal funds.”

And, “States like Oklahoma and Louisiana also faced tremendous revenue shortfalls.”

As for Massachusetts, there’s a good recap of our policy progress on page 33, thanks to Amy O’Leary, director of our Early Education for All Campaign.

In good budget news for our state:

“The Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) and its programs are funded at $540.6 million,” the update says. “The budget also includes a $12.5 million rate reserve for early educator salaries. Together this represents a $2 million increase in overall funding for early education and care, the fourth straight increase since fiscal year 2013’s low point. But funding has still not returned to prerecession FY2009 levels.”

Among the disappointing budget items, “Full-day kindergarten grants were eliminated and $18.59 million cut from the current fiscal year.”

Among the “recent policy changes:”

• “Senate President Stan Rosenberg launched a Kids First initiative, a multi-issue strategy for ensuring children’s long-term success.”

• “House Speaker Robert DeLeo launched the Early Education and Care Business Advisory Group, an opportunity for business leaders to lend their management expertise, strategic guidance and financial advice on the critical needs of the early education and care workforce in Massachusetts,” and

• “The EEC awarded state-funded preschool expansion planning grants to 13 communities. Grantees created strategic plans based on community needs assessments, with the goal of expanding access to high-quality preschool for high-needs children.”

The policy news, of course, is always changing, so as The Ounce says, “Watch for the forthcoming companion document, ‘State Policy Update: November 2016,’ which will provide updated information on those legislation sessions still in progress and share reflections from state advocates about the 2017 legislative landscapes.”