Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children
Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

The First Five Years Fund is planning for next year’s new political season by looking ahead.

“Across the political spectrum, policymakers acknowledge the importance of investing in our children’s earliest years – and looking beyond the election, this bipartisan support provides a significant opportunity to enact early childhood solutions that benefit children in the most need,” the Fund says on its website.

“We must work with lawmakers of both parties and the Trump Administration, building upon progress made over the last several years to increase access to high-quality early learning and care.”

To get this work started, the Fund released an “Early Childhood Education Policy Framework,” that explains how “the Trump Administration and incoming Congress could create a well-financed continuum of high-quality early learning and care for children from birth through age five.” The Fund praises cost-effective measures such as “improving existing programs, addressing concerns of quality and cost, and building better partnerships between the federal government, states, and local communities.”

The Fund’s goal is simple: “Ensure more children have access to high-quality early learning and care.”

The reasoning is clear: “All children need high-quality early childhood development, but low-income children are the least likely to get it.”

That’s why the framework calls for:

• “Extending and expanding the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program”

• “Growing the Early Head Start – Child Care Partnerships Initiative” because “state and local partnerships are one of the most promising practices emerging as a driver of quality”

• “Leveraging the Preschool Development Grant program” to strengthen states’ efforts to build “strong early learning systems”

• Creating “a bipartisan, long-term solution to budget constraints to ensure Child Care, Head Start, and other critical programs have sustained funding to support both access and quality”

• “Addressing the high cost of quality early learning with reforms to the tax code”

• “Supporting innovation and new ideas such as strengthening the structure of federal early childhood programs to improve service delivery,” and

• “Working with all partners… to better implement, coordinate, and evaluate early learning services and their impacts.”

As Massachusetts shows, federal investments in early education are already paying off. This state has improved access to and quality in many preschool programs thanks to federal grants, including a Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant as well as the current Preschool Expansion Grant (PEG), which was just funded at $15 million for a third year.

As Massachusetts’ Secretary of Education Jim Peyser said, “Over the past year, these Pre-School Expansion Programs have begun to show that they are model programs which can help us continue to build high-quality early education programs across the Commonwealth.”

He adds: “With this third round of funding, we will not only help more children have access to high-quality early education programs but it will advance our goal of helping all children achieve math and reading proficiency by third grade.”

A total of 18 states received $247.4 million in PEG funding. The grant is supposed to extend to a fourth year, but Education Week says this final year of funding is in question.

We think federal lawmakers can and should continue to invest in this kind of progress.

The First Five Years Fund adds, “We hope the Trump Administration and Congress can come together on this issue and support the broader, bipartisan commitment to increasing access to high-quality early learning and care programs that enable our children – and our country – to succeed.”