Policy Brief/Analysis

Ideas and Inspiration for Targeting Federal American Recovery Act Funds to Early Childhood Education

I. Introduction

State early childhood administrators are planning to strategically invest the federal appropriations in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP)  to address disruptions in children’s care and learning due to the pandemic.  State leaders must consider how this one-time funding can be used effectively while understanding the context around sustainability of programs and usage after these funds end. Keeping these issues in mind, it is critically important for this funding to be targeted to children in the early years (birth through Grade 3) to pave the way for longer-term solutions to support school readiness and healthy development.

Young children were inordinately affected by the pandemic and face real threats to their healthy development.  We know from the research on how children’s brain develop that their early experiences at home and in the community are crucial for development.  Experiences in the home and community with supportive adults impact their health and development long into the future. Many young  children experienced significant trauma due to parent’s unemployment, episodes of experiencing homelessness, substance abuse or mental health issues, in addition to the death or adverse health due to Covid of other adult supports from caregivers, teachers, and grandparents, to name a few.  And we know that many children have not had the opportunity to be fully engaged with their peers, one of the best ways children learn, for more than a year. Recent studies have found significant impacts of the loss of access to school and early education on children’s learning, particularly for low-income and minority children. According to one study, the closure of schools and child care was projected to have “a long term impact on lifetime wage earnings, with younger children losing more than older children”.

To use this money wisely to strengthen the system and address inequities that were brought into stark relief during the pandemic, policy makers often look to their peers for information and guidance.  This brief provides state leaders and advocates with a deeper understanding of the possible uses of ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief  (ESSER)  funding and new ideas on innovative practices and sound strategies to the address needs of children in preschool and early elementary grades. The brief considers how investments from the 2021 Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) to state child care and development funds can be aligned and synergetic to strengthen the early care and education system.

The Authors

Dr. Lori Connors-Tadros is a recognized national leader in early care and education policy and research and provides technical assistance to states to use research to craft and implement effective policies. Lori has deep expertise in comprehensive state early childhood systems, finance and governance for effective policy implementation, leadership and agency capacity to implement policy and improve access, and research and policy to improve outcomes for young children.