No agenda, but some progress
President Barack Obama"s 2008 campaign included many promises to improve education. One said he would "launch a Children's First Agenda that provides care, learning and support to families with children from birth up to 5 years old."
The President"s improvements focus on early care for infants and early education for young children in preparation for kindergarten.
We searched Google, the White House and Department of Education websites for evidence of a specific "Children"s First Agenda,” but our search yielded no results.
However, Obama has made progress on elements of this promise.
Ron Haskins, co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution pointed us to a number of areas in which President Obama has made significant improvements.
Haskins said that "Obama did more to improve Head Start -- a federal program for young children from low-income families -- than any other president.” Obama avoided congressional opposition that had hampered President George W. Bush's efforts by using executive orders.
These orders required that public and private Head Start agencies receive regular evaluations on three criteria: emotional support, instructional support and classroom organization. Agencies that don"t meet certain standards cannot receive funding.
In 2009 Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (better known as the economic stimulus), which invested $2.1 billion in both Head Start and Early Head Start.
The 2010 Affordable Care Act also included a substantial $1.5 billion to be spent over a five-year period on a program called the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program.
It provides home-based care to pregnant mothers that extends into their child"s first two years. The goal is to improve the cognitive and social development of children.
Obama"s budgets have shown a steady increase for the program from $100 million in 2010 to $350 million this year.
Obama has also started the Early Learning Challenge program, which helps children from low-income families get access to early learning programs. It's part of Obama"s education reform initiative, Race to the Top.
The 2011 budget set aside $497.3 million for the state-based Early Learning Challenge program and the Department of Education is scheduled to award an additional $133 million directly to school districts in December 2012.
Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy think tank, said that while there is plenty of work to still be done to "reduce redundancy and increase coordination between programs,” the Obama administration has "helped chase the conversation of early childhood care so that it is connected to early education.”
According to Guernsey, despite the difficult economic climate, most cuts to early education programs haven"t been as bad as expected, and in some cases, certain programs have even seen slight bumps in funding.
So we find a mixed bag on this one. Our searches for a "Children"s First Agenda” remain fruitless. President Obama has not outlined a coherent strategy to address the many areas in which early care and learning can be improved. However, he does seem to be chipping away at the goals that inspired this agenda in the first place. We rate this promise a Compromise.
Interview with Ron Haskins, co-director of the Brookings Institution"s Center on Children and Families, Sept. 19 2012
Interview with Adele Robinson, deputy executive director, policy & public affairs, National Association for the Education of Young Children, Sept. 17 2012
Email Interview with Jen Fitzgerald, public information officer, National Institute for Early Education Research, Sept. 17, 2012
Interview with Lisa Guernsey, director, Early Education Initiative, New America Foundation, Sept. 24, 2012
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Active Grants for Affordable Care Act, accessed Sept. 24 2012
Office of Management and Budget, Budget Document for Fiscal Year 2010
Office of Management and Budget, Budget Document for Fiscal Year 2011
Office of Management and Budget, Budget Document for Fiscal Year 2012
Children's First Agenda hits some snags
During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to "launch a Children's First Agenda that provides care, learning and support to families with children from birth up to 5 years old."
In searches through Whitehouse.gov, Google and Nexis, we found no mention that the administration had launched an agenda with that name. But in his budget request for the Education Department, we did find a mention of two key elements of a presidential "Zero-to-Five" initiative, which seemed closely related.
The budget request of $800 million -- "part of a down payment on the President's Zero-to-Five initiative to improve early childhood education," as the administration put it -- included $500 million for a new program of Title I Early Childhood Grants and $300 million for the first phase of the Early Learning Challenge Fund. Both programs would partner with states to boost pre-K learning resources.
However, neither the House nor the Senate agreed to fund the program, and when an omnibus appropriations bill that included the Education Department reached the president's desk in December, Obama signed it even though neither program received a dime.
We expect the administration to continue pushing for early-childhood funding, but so far, it has neither produced something called a "Children's First Agenda" nor succeeded in securing the $800 million it had sought as a "down payment" on a similar-sounding early-childhood education initiative. So for now, we rate this one Stalled.
Education Department, "
Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Summary — May 7, 2009
," accessed Dec. 18, 2009
Education Department, " Department of Education Fiscal Year 2010 Congressional Action ," accessed Dec. 18, 2009
Internet and Nexis searches that produced no results