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Washington Can’t Seem to Agree on Anything — Except Kids


December 6, 2018
Yasmina Vinci and Sarah Rittling
Roll Call

The intensity of this fall’s midterm election campaigns could make it easy to forget that there is one priority both political parties have consistently come together to support: early childhood education.

Despite the growing partisan divide, which seems to be worsening by the day and has left Washington unable to reach consensus on even routine items, lawmakers from across the political spectrum in Congress and the 50 states still view advancing early childhood education as a critical objective.

Voter support for this objective manifested itself on Election Day; for example, the vast majority of governors-elect have previously expressed support for early learning and care initiatives in their respective states.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Members on both sides of the aisle have a long history of supporting our youngest learners, and that support is only growing stronger. Over the past several years, whether power in Congress has been held by Republicans, Democrats, or split between the two, funding for important early learning opportunities has been a top priority.

This year, one need only look at the fiscal year 2019 federal appropriations legislation to see how lawmakers came together to build on years of progress and include significant commitments to crucial early childhood education programs, such as Child Care Development Block Grants and the newly launched Preschool Development Grants.

The fiscal 2019 bill, which passed the House and Senate in overwhelming bipartisan fashion and was signed into law by the president in September, provides increases in funding for critical early learning programs, including Early Head Start, which serves infants and toddlers, and Head Start, which serves 3- and 4-year-old preschoolers. The funding will enable these programs to continue partnering with parents to reach nearly one million at-risk children with high-quality care and education, as well as important health, nutrition, and family support.

Like other early learning and care programs that help children from birth through age five build a foundation for lifelong success, Head Start delivers proven, lasting results; research on the long-term impacts of Head Start found the program reduces behavioral and health problems, while another study concluded children enrolled in Early Head Start outperformed their peers in cognitive, language, and socio-emotional development. A 2016 analysis of data collected over three decades found that Head Start students are more likely to graduate high school, pursue higher education, and complete higher education than their own siblings who did not participate in Head Start. The study also found that Head Start participation increased positive parenting practices, such as reading aloud to children.