Mixed record on early intervention educational programs
Early childhood education reform was a major component of President Barack Obama's platform during the campaign. He promised to work with schools to create more healthful environments for children, promote more early education, and double funding for afterschool programs. He also pledged to invest $10 billion a year in early educational and developmental programs, a promise that we last reviewed in January 2010. We found that while the total new funding increased substantially compared to previous years, it was short of the $10 billion that Obama promised. The Early Learning Challenge Fund was also still awaiting action in the Senate, so we rated the promise Compromise.
Since then, Congress has passed the much-debated health care bill, and President Obama has released his 2011 budget proposal, so we decided to revisit the promise.
First, let's take the Early Learning Challenge Fund, which would have provided competitive grants to states to improve the quality of services for children under five. In his budget request for 2010, Obama asked for $300 million but received zero during the annual appropriations process. The experts we spoke with said that Congress made the decision knowing that the House had already passed a student-aid reform bill that would have provided $1 billion for the program over eight years in September 2009.
By the time the Senate was ready to vote on the proposal, however, things had taken a turn for the worse. The student-aid bill had become attached to the health care legislation, and when the Congressional Budget Office lowered its estimate of how much money the final health care package would save, the Early Learning Challenge Fund was axed.
By the time President Obama signed the final health care legislation in March 2010, the early learning funding was gone, but the legislation did provide $1.5 billion over five years for an evidence-based home visitation program for new and expectant at-risk families.
In July of this year, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education approved a bill appropriating $300 million for the early learning program. That's despite Obama not asking for any funding in his 2011 budget request (because the White House had assumed that the Senate would pass the House bill) and the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee not including the program in its annual markup. Both the House and the Senate still have to approve the proposal voted out of the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations subcommittee before it becomes law.
Congress is still in the midst of considering Obama's 2011 budget request, so it's hard to tell how the final numbers will play out. Compared to the 2010 fiscal year, Obama asked for an increase of $989 million in funding for the Head Start program and $800 million for the Child Care and Development Block Grants. Proposed funding for IDEA Part C, the program for children with disabilities, is set to remain the same as in fiscal 2010, but the final decision lies with Congress. Obama also asked for a $250 million increase in Special Education Grants to States, which school districts may use to improve educational outcomes for children between 3 and 21 years old with disabilities. Add it up and you get a little over $2.2 billion in proposed new funding for 2011, including the home visitation program in the health care bill. As we pointed out in our last update, the promise doesn't specify that the administration will spend $10 billion in new dollars, but the experts say that's the only way to interpret it, since federal funding for these purposes already exceeds $10 billion annually. But even if we include spending increases from last year, that still only puts Obama at $7 billion, $3 billion short of the promised $10 billion.
It remains unclear whether Congress will end up funding Obama's Early Learning Challenge Grant, and Obama has yet to reach the $10 billion mark, so for now, the rating remains unchanged.
New America Foundation, Reconciliation Bill Sets Sail Without Early Learning Challenge Grants, by Lisa Guernsey, March 19, 2010
New America Foundation, House Clears the Way for Early Learning Challenge Fund, by Lisa Guernsey, Sept. 17, 2009
National Institute for Early Education Research, Early Learning Challenge Fund Dropped from Health Care Reform but Home Visitation Survives, May/June 2010.
New America Foundation, A Look At Proposed Federal FY 2011 Funding for Early Education: Part 2, by Laura Bornfreund, July 29, 2010
New America Foundation, A Look at Proposed Federal FY 2011 Funding for Early Education, by Laura Bornfreund, July 19, 2010
U.S. Department of Education, Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Summary and Background Information, accessed Sept. 10, 2010
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, FY 2011 Budget Request, accessed Sept. 10, 2010
E-mail interview, Laura Bornfreund, Early Education Initiative analyst at New America Foundation, Aug. 1, 2010
Phone interview, Cornelia Grumman, Director of The First Five Years Fund, Aug. 3, 2010
'Dramatic progress' on early childhood programs, but not the promised $10 billion
During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama said his administration would "invest $10 billion per year in early intervention educational and developmental programs for children between zero and five. Their plan will help expand Early Head Start to serve more children with disabilities, and will spur states, through programs like Early Learning Challenge Grants, to expand programs for children with disabilities, such as IDEA Part C, and integrate these programs with other early childhood programs."
This promise proved difficult to rate, for several reasons.
First, the Obama team's wording was less than precise. The promise doesn't specify that the administration will spend $10 billion in new dollars, for instance. However, experts say that's the only way to interpret it, since federal funding for these purposes already exceeds $10 billion annually, meaning that the administration could reach $10 billion in total spending by making massive cuts.
In addition, the promise is worded vaguely enough to be unclear about whether the $10 billion in new money is to be be spent specifically on disadvantaged young children with disabilities or disadvantaged children generally. Experts in the field have operated under the assumption that it's for disadvantaged children generally, not just the disabled.
If we accept these two assumptions, the task boils down to figuring out how much the key programs were increased either in the economic stimulus bill or in the regular appropriations process.
The stimulus bill, which was passed in February 2009, allocated $1.1 billion in new funds to expand the Early Head Start program (for ages birth to three) and $1 billion to expand the regular Head Start program (which covers preschool).
Another program referenced in the president's promise -- IDEA Part C grants, which aid infants and toddlers with disabilities -- received $500 million from the stimulus bill.
Yet another program -- Child Care and Development Block Grants to states, which supplement state funds in providing child care assistance for low-income families -- received $2 billion from the stimulus.
In the meantime, the regular budgeting process provided an inflation increase of $122 million for Head Start over fiscal year 2009.
All told, the administration has made "dramatic progress" on providing funds for early childhood programs, said Eric Karolak, executive director of the Early Care and Education Consortium.
The one program cited in the promise that did not get funded this year was Early Learning Challenge Grants, but that's a complicated story. Obama had asked for $300 million in regular appropriations for the program but received zero. However, experts said that decision was made knowing that House-passed legislation (H.R. 3221) that is now awaiting consideration by the Senate would provide $8 billion over eight years for a new Early Learning Challenge Fund.
When combined with other new Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) allocations in the stimulus, the total increase so far enacted by the stimulus bill and the regular process is about $5 billion -- a substantial increase, but only half the promised $10 billion. A major piece of the promise, the Early Learning Challenge Fund, is awaiting action in the Senate, and that could theoretically boost the amount closer to the $10 billion goal. But reaching it would require an amount five times higher than what's provided for in the House bill, which seems unlikely. So we're rating this promise a Compromise.
Text of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
Department of Health and Human Services, budget figures for Children and Families Services Programs, accessed Jan. 6, 2010
Education Department, "Department of Education Fiscal Year 2010 Congressional Action," Dec. 14, 2009
Interview with Eric Karolak, executive director of the Early Care and Education Consortium, Jan. 6, 2010
Interview with Danielle Ewen, director of child care and early education programs at the Center for Law and Social Policy, Jan. 6, 2010