The benefits of a high-quality early childhood are many for vulnerable children and families, as well as the broader community. Despite this strong base of evidence, funding for high-quality early childhood programs falls far short of its need at local, state and federal levels. The Ounce understands this and advocates for increased state and federal investment in research-based early learning programs proven to promote positive outcomes.
We know from decades of research that the academic achievement gap extant between low-income children and their affluent peers forms well before they enter kindergarten. Having arrived at school unprepared, these children struggle to catch up to their classmates and may be placed in special education or held back. Still, research tells us there is at least one solution to the achievement gap problem: high-quality early education and care, which can even the playing field for children at risk of school failure.
The Ounce and our advocacy partners worked to secure passage of Preschool for All in 2006. The program made Illinois the first state in the nation to offer voluntary, high-quality preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds. Preschool for All prioritizes at-risk children first for early education services, and programs are operated by local school districts or community-based agencies. Preschool for All is funded by the Illinois State Board of Education’s Early Childhood Block Grant.
A percentage of the Early Childhood Block Grant is set aside for infant-toddler programs such as home visiting, which strengthen the role of parents as their child’s first teachers. In 2014, the Ounce successfully advocated for the Illinois General Assembly to pass a bill to increase the infant-toddler set-aside from 11% to 14%, continuing work set forth in 2009 to increase the floor to 20%.
Learn more about Preschool for All and the Early Childhood Block Grant from the Illinois State Board of Education.
ACROSS THE US
Educare is a tangible place where policymakers and community leaders from across the US can see how at-risk children can thrive in a high-quality early learning environment. In partnership with the Buffett Early Childhood Fund and communities across the country, the Ounce continues to expand the Educare Learning Network with each school serving as a platform for policy change. For example, Educare served as the model for the $25 million Oklahoma Pilot Early Childhood Program, which increased the number of children served by high-quality programs in the state.
The First Five Years Fund (FFYF), a project of the Ounce, successfully garnered support for new early childhood investments in the 2009 federal stimulus package. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included $1 billion for Head Start, $1.1 billion for Early Head Start, and $2 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). In 2013, in collaboration with other national and state organizations, FFYF led massive efforts to bring early childhood into the forefront of the public debate and advocate for increased funding. The result was a $1.4 billion increase in funds when the president signed the 2014 omnibus appropriations bill designed by a bipartisan group of appropriations committee leaders.