Improving Systems, Practices and Outcomes

Early Care and Development:
National/Federal Initiatives and State Policies

Early Care and Development topic editor: Sue Goode

Most recent additions to this page:

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) and will replace the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Guidance to states from the U.S. Department of Education on how the transition process will work is available at http://www.ed.gov/essa. The ESSA authorizes $250 million annually for a new, redesigned Preschool Development Grant (PDG) program to be administered jointly by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education. The new federal education law takes full effect during the 2017-18 school year.

Quality early childhood practices, well implemented and supported, can benefit all children. This section provides the broad context of early childhood care and education in the United States. Referenced are national and state initiatives that are creating increased opportunities for all young children - including those with disabilities and their families - to benefit from community-based and publicly supported programs.

The National Context

The importance of supporting and promoting the learning and development of all children before they enter school and of engaging their families as partners in this endeavor receives attention almost daily in the media and from policy decision-makers.

National Summits and Conferences

WWW: Office of Early Learning (OEL)

The OEL is charged with supporting the WWW: U.S Department of Education's Early Learning Initiative and works collaboratively with other Department offices to help coordinate and align early learning programs and initiatives. Additionally, OEL works across Federal Agencies, including co-administering the Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge grants with the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) and will replace the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Guidance to states from the U.S. Department of Education on how the transition process will work is available at http://www.ed.gov/essa. The ESSA authorizes $250 million annually for a new, redesigned Preschool Development Grant (PDG) program to be administered jointly by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education. The new federal education law takes full effect during the 2017-18 school year.

Bridging the Word Gap Network

Research shows that children who are poor hear approximately 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers during the first three years of life. This "word gap" can lead to disparities in not only school readiness, but also long-term educational and health outcomes, earnings, and family stability. Bridging the Word Gap is a coordinated effort by the Department of Education (ED), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to help parents, caregivers, and teachers on this important issue. The FACT SHEET: New Steps by the Administration to Help Parents "Bridge the Word Gap" (October 2014), describes the initiatives, including the Bridging the Word Gap Network and others.

WWW: Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) Grant Competition

The RTT-ELC grant competition, funded by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, focuses on improving early learning and development programs for young children by supporting States' efforts to: (1) increase the number and percentage of low-income and disadvantaged infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who are enrolled in high-quality early learning programs; (2) design and implement an integrated system of high-quality early learning programs and services; and (3) ensure that any use of assessments conforms with the recommendations of the National Research Council's reports on early childhood. The goal is to better prepare more children with high needs for kindergarten.

WWW: Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program

In May 2010, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the Administration on Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the new Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, which was created as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. See our Home Visiting webpage for more information and resources.

Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014

On November 18, 2014, President Obama signed the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014 into law. The new law reauthorizes the child care program for the first time since 1996. It defines health and safety requirements for child care providers, outlines family-friendly eligibility policies, and ensures that parents and the general public have transparent information about the child care choices available to them.

Preschool Development Grants

The goal of the Preschool Development Grants is to support states in developing and expanding voluntary, high-quality preschool programs in high-need communities for children from low- and moderate-income families. States with small state preschool programs can apply for development grants, while states with established, larger preschool programs can compete for expansion grants. The grant program is jointly administered by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services.

Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership (EHS-CCP) Grants

This competitive grant opportunity supports the partnering of Early Head Start programs with child care providers to expand access to high-quality, comprehensive services for low-income infants and toddlers and their families. Under EHS-CCP, new or existing Early Head Start grantees partner with regulated center-based or family child care providers who agree to meet the Head Start Program Performance Standards. The partnerships are meant help programs leverage their funds to provide more high quality early learning slots in their community.

WWW: National Institute for Early Education Research

Supports early childhood education initiatives by providing objective, nonpartisan information based on research.

WWW: National Governors Association, Center for Best Practices - Early Learning Initiative

The NGA Center for Best Practices' initiative on early learning from birth through third grade supports the work of governors, their policy advisors and others leading efforts to promote school readiness by building a comprehensive system of services for young children.

WWW: BUILD Initiative

Assists state leaders in planning and implementing a comprehensive early childhood "system of systems" that crosses policy domains. The aim is to prepare young children aged birth - five to succeed by helping their families access high quality early learning programs, family and parenting support, early intervention services for children with special needs, and comprehensive health, mental health and nutritional services.

WWW: Pre-K Now

This 10-year campaign supported universal voluntary access to high-quality pre-kindergarten at both the national and state levels, collaborating with advocates and policymakers to lead a movement for high-quality pre-kindergarten for all three- and four-year olds.

State Early Childhood Policies and Initiatives

Most states have early childhood policies and initiatives in place that are meant to promote healthy development and school readiness, so children have a better chance of later success in school and beyond. The ECTA Center's listing of Early Childhood Data Sources provides links to a variety of state policies, data, and initiatives related to early childhood care and education.

Major Publications Synthesizing Early Development and Education

WWW: Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University: Reports and Working Papers (various dates - present)

These reports and working papers summarize findings from the research on the developing brain and underscore the importance of using science to intervene early and improve outcomes in learning, behavior, and health for all children, especially those whose prospects are compromised by adversity.

WWW: From Neurons to Neighborhoods: An Update: Workshop Summary (2012).

This report from the National Academies Press is available WWW: full-text online. It is based on the original study, WWW: From Neurons to Neighborhoods: Early Childhood Development (2000), which has contributed to a growing public understanding of the foundational importance of the early childhood years and helped shape early childhood policy agendas and intervention efforts at national, state, and local levels.

WWW: Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers (2000)

National Academies Press - This publication presents a comprehensive, cross-disciplinary synthesis of the theory, research and evaluation literature relevant to early childhood education.

Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center

  • CB 8040
  • Chapel Hill, NC 27599-8040
  • phone: 919.962.2001
  • fax: 919.966.7463
  • email: ectacenter@unc.edu

The ECTA Center is a program of the FPG Child Development Institute of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, funded through cooperative agreement number H326P120002 from the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent the Department of Education's position or policy.

  • FPG Child Development Institute
  • OSEP's TA&D Network:IDEAs that Work