Barack Obama focused on on early learning as a cornerstone of his education plan in the 2008 election. One idea he pushed was a national early learning council, modeled loosely on a state council in Illinois.
He said: "I will create a Presidential Early Learning Council to coordinate this effort across all levels of government and ensure that we're providing these children and families with the highest quality programs.”
By "this effort,” Obama meant expanding funding for early education and related support programs.
In a literal sense, Obama did not create a government body called the "Presidential Early Learning Council.” His administration did make something similar under a clunkier name: the Early Learning Interagency Policy Board.
We wondered: Is a policy board just a council with more syllables in the title? Or does the living, breathing policy board do less than the council Obama once envisioned?
In order to compare the hypothetical council with the real board, we tried to understand the thinking behind Obama's proposed presidential early learning council.
"Federal programs that touch young children are housed in many departments and haven't historically been well-coordinated,” said Kris Perry, head of the early learning research and advocacy group, the First Five Years Fund. Members of the early learning community were interested in a national early learning council as a solution to this silo problem.
Without drowning in an alphabet soup of government acronyms, we'll just say the list of federal programs affecting young children is long and covers child care, family welfare, housing, nutrition, home health care, as well as early education.
We searched for other specifics either in Obama campaign literature or in white papers by early learning advocacy organizations. It would matter, for example, if Obama called it a presidential council because he wanted it to operate within the White House and to think up new policy ideas for early learning programs. As far as we can tell, the proposal went no further than calling for a coordinating body.
Obama's interagency policy board does just that. It works with many offices within the departments of education and health and human services, plus state early learning councils, and local early learning communities. In 2011 it published a report on current early learning programs at the state level, though it steered clear of recommending new federal actions, as a White House policy council might.
In this case, the linguistic differences aren't substantive. A council is a board. We rate this a Promise Kept.