New state approaches to increase investments and advance policies for children birth to five.
Nebraskans took the bold step of amending their state constitution to declare that learning begins at birth. In 2006, legislators established the Early Childhood Education Endowment that is funded with $40 million from the state’s permanent Education Lands Fund matched with $20 million in private funds. Earnings on this fund will support a range of high quality home- and center-based child development services for at-risk infants and toddlers across the state. More preschoolers are also benefiting from expanded access to early education programs funded through the Nebraska’s school aid funding formula.
Illinois is a leader in simultaneously increasing investments in evidence-based child development and family support programs for infants and toddlers and preschool education programs for three- and four-year-olds through its $343 million Early Childhood Block Grant funding stream, which has grown by $160 million over the past five years. Funding for this innovative block grant, which includes an infant-toddler set-aside that dedicates 11 percent of state early education funding for infant-toddler programs, has also transformed Illinois’ targeted preschool at-risk program into Preschool for All, slated to offer voluntary preschool services to all three- and four-year-olds by 2011, reaching those at-risk first. Illinois is also the first state to provide affordable, comprehensive health insurance for every child.
Oklahoma’s Pilot Early Childhood Program is a $25 million public-private partnership that provides new funding to expand access to high-quality accredited early education and family support programs for low-income infants and toddlers. Currently, $10 million comes from public funding and $15 million from private funders. All pilot sites must meet key Early Head Start performance standards and employ lead teachers with bachelor’s degrees and specialized training in infant-toddler care and education. Oklahoma’s Early Childhood Four-Year-Old Program serves 70 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds. The Pilot Early Childhood Program is an exciting addition to the array of strong early childhood services available to Oklahoma families with children under age five.
In recent years, Kansas has made important investments in children from birth to five under the leadership of Governor Sebelius, legislators, and local business leaders. Kansas currently invests $18.9 million in Early Head Start and Parents As Teachers programs that promote the healthy development of infants and toddlers, and $20.5 million in prekindergarten programs for four-year-olds. Kansas was one of the first states to use state funding to expand federal comprehensive Early Head Start services to additional at-risk children in child care centers and family child care homes.
Early learning is gaining momentum in Washington state. A diverse group of public and private partners have established Thrive by Five Washington, a public-private partnership that combines the assets of each sector to serve as a catalyst for improvements to parenting education and support, child care, preschool, and other early learning environments statewide. Due to strong support from Governor Chris Gregoire and state legislators, young children in Washington will benefit from funding increases in a range of home- and center-based programs for at-risk children from birth to age five. The 2007-09 biennium budget includes $5 million in new funding for a Quality Rating System, a $3.5 million increase for infant-toddler home visiting programs, $34 million for state-funded preschool expansion, and $85 million to increase child care rates. Washington also has a new cabinet-level Department of Early Learning that brings together the state’s birth to five leadership in child care, Head Start, and preschool programs to support access to safe, healthy, and quality early childhood development services throughout the state.