Policy & Funding

White House, NGOs Pony Up $1.1 Billion on Early Childhood Education Push

Just days after turning its attention to keeping students in college, the White House today announced actions to help the youngest citizens with their education opportunities. As with its other education initiatives, this one calls for federal action along with support from corporations and foundations.

The President kicked off a new public awareness campaign at a White House event on early education. The "Invest in US" program is intended to encourage expansion of early childhood programs and research. That comes with a major round of federal grant awards and as well as commitments from non-government sources.

The feds are committing a total of $750 million. That includes $250 million from the United States Department of Education under the Preschool Development Grants program. Secretary Arne Duncan announced that 18 states have won grants to expand preschool programs in 200-plus "high-need" communities. The goal of those grants, which will accommodate 33,000 children, is to support states in "building, developing and expanding voluntary, high-quality preschool programs in high-need communities." The winning states are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will be adding $500 million to the effort to expand the reach of its Early Head Start Child Care Partnership program. That funding will go to communities in 49 states to provide early care and education for 30,000 infants and toddlers starting next year.

On top of those efforts the campaign has lined up another $341 million in private funding and in-kind support from companies and foundations that have signed on to focus more of their largesse on early childhood programs. As one example, venture capitalist and philanthropist J.B. Pritzker has pledged $25 million over five years on top of other sizable commitments made by the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation to early childhood development.

"For more than a decade, the Pritzker Children's Initiative has worked to give the country's most vulnerable children from birth to age three and their families high quality early childhood development opportunities. We believe it is critical to significantly expand that support," he said. "The Invest in US challenge will advance the availability of high quality evidence-based early childhood programs and research from birth to age five, leading to higher achievement, better health, a skilled workforce, increased wages and reduced social spending."

Other commitments include:

  • $55 million in learning apps and books for young learners from The Walt Disney Company;
  • $5 million from the Lego Foundation to start an early learning initiative at New Profit;
  • $5 million from clothier PVH to support early education programs operated by Save the Children.
  • $20 million from the Kresge Foundation over five years to expand an early childhood development system in the City of Detroit; and
  • $15 million from Susan A. Buffett and Partners to increase high-quality early childhood services for an additional 192 infants, toddlers and their families in Omaha.

"These champions of early childhood education are contributing toward new efforts across the country that will bring more children a critical opportunity for success in school and in life," said Kris Perry, the executive director of the First Five Years Fund, a bipartisan nonprofit that initiated the Invest in US campaign. "But [there are] still too many children in America that enter school not ready to learn, including more than half of disadvantaged children. That's why government at all levels, business leaders, philanthropy and the early childhood community must come together and continue to make investments that give all kids a strong start."

Obama first took up the call to provide "high-quality early childhood education" to every child in the country during his 2013 State of the Union speech. Earlier this year he announced his intention to bring together "elected officials, business leaders, philanthropists and the public" to galvanize efforts and help more children access the high-quality early childhood education they need."

The White House is making the case that a small investment in early childhood education pays back nearly nine-fold. In a new report the President's Council of Economic Advisers described investments in childhood development and early education as immediately benefiting parental earnings and employment and producing longer term advantages through greater educational attainment and earnings, "realized when children reach adulthood." "In total, the existing research suggests expanding early learning initiatives would provide benefits to society of roughly $8.60 for every $1 spent, about half of which comes from increased earnings for children when they grow up," the reported stated.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.