NAEYC Children’s Champions

New Early Learning Challenge Fund Legislation Could Leverage Improvements in Early Childhood Programs
Representative George Miller (D-CA), the Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, introduced the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which includes the Early Learning Challenge Fund, a new competitive grant program to states to improve their systems of early childhood education for children birth to five, with the goal of increasing the number of low income and disadvantaged children infants, toddlers, preschoolers in high quality programs.
This new program will be moved in the legislative process along with changes to the higher education loan system.  The savings from the higher education loan changes will be used in part to fund the Early Learning Challenge Fund at $10 billion over 10 years (mandatory funding).  To read the Early Learning Challenge Fund section of the
The legislation, which was developed in collaboration with the Obama Administration and was first proposed as part of his campaign’s call for a Zero to Five Plan to improve the quality of early childhood development and learning across all sectors of the field, is scheduled to be marked up next week in the House Committee.
The Fund would establish two types of competitive grants to states:
  • Quality Pathways Grants and Development Grants.  The Secretary of Education and the Secretary of Health and Human Services will jointly administer the program.
  • Quality Pathways Grants would be available to states that already have made significant progress toward establishing systems for improving the quality of early learning settings.  These grants would be awarded for five years and would be renewable.  In the first year, up to 65 percent of the Fund would be used for these grants.  This percentage increases to 85 percent by the fourth year.  States designated the lead state agency but also must coordinate this grant with the state early childhood advisory council plans for statewide quality improvement and data.
Development Grants would be available to states with some elements of an early learning system to support planning efforts.  These grants would be awarded for three years and would not be renewable, with the expectation that after three years, developing states would have made enough progress to apply for Quality Pathways Grants.
States must submit an application that would address these elements in their quality improvement systems, including:
  • Goals and benchmarks for increasing the number or percentage of disadvantaged children in high-quality settings in each age group.
  • Early learning standards that address children’s cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development and that are applied in early learning settings.
  • A program rating system that builds on licensing with progressively higher levels of program quality, includes financial incentives and other supports to help programs meet and sustain higher levels of quality, professional development, increased public awareness of quality programs, and how states will encourage programs across all settings (child care, Head Start, Title I, special ed) to participate in the program rating system, along with other monitoring or review to improve program and instructional practices.
  • A process for integrating instructional and programmatic practices that include developmentally appropriate, ongoing classroom based assessments in all domains to guide practice and professional development, aligned with curricula used in the program and aligned with the state early learning guidelines or Head Start Child Outcomes Framework as applicable.
  • Minimum pre-service education and training requirements for providers.
  • A professional development system for the early learning workforce that includes professional preparation, ongoing development, and improved compensation tied to a credential or degree.
  • Parent outreach.
  • Coordination with health, mental health, disability, and family support services.
  • A process for evaluating children’s school readiness across developmental domains that is used to guide practice and improve programs.
  • Data systems to track the quality of early learning programs.
States would use the funds for two or more of the following quality improvements:
  • Improving the credentials and compensation of the early childhood workforce.
  • Helping programs meet higher quality standards.
  • Implementing classroom observation assessments tied to improvements in instructional practices.
  • Making financial incentives available to programs for quality improvements.
  • Providing information to communities and families about program quality and encouraging family engagement.
  • Supporting screenings and referrals for health, mental health, family support, and other services.
  • Developing and implementing data systems.
In addition, funds would used to implement or enhance a state data system, the state’s oversight system (including the program rating system) and developing measures of school readiness reflecting all domains that inform the quality improvement process.
Starting in the second grant year, if the state can show sufficient progress, the state may request to use up to 25 percent of the state’s grant to increase the number of disadvantaged children with access to high-quality programs that provide full-day services. States would be expected to maintain their current funding levels to child care, Head Start, prekindergarten, and other early learning programs.
In addition, the Secretary will set aside funds to be used for research and evaluation between the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
NAEYC is pleased that this bill would make a significant, multi-year investment in helping states build strong systems of high quality early childhood programs and would leverage additional investments in early childhood education.
To learn more about the changes to higher education federal loans under H.R. 3221, please go to