- About Us
- Programs & Campaigns
- Policy Priorities
- Research Library
- Take Action
- Support Our Work
Eleven million children under the age of five spend time in environments outside of their parents’ care, including care with family members, friends or neighbors, home-based providers, private child care centers and preschools, and Head Start or state-administered public programs. However, the quality of these early learning experiences can vary greatly, as various programs use differing standards, accountability mechanisms, and evaluation processes.
To address these disconnects in early education systems, the U.S. House of Representatives took a major step forward for young children in September of 2009 by passing legislation which included the Early Learning Challenge Fund—a competitive grant program for states using innovation and evidence-based practices to improve quality in early learning settings .
The Early Learning Challenge Fund, if enacted by Congress, would encourage Governors to develop and strengthen statewide, coordinated early learning systems that establish:
Without a coordinated system of standards to promote quality in early education, the most vulnerable children often miss out on these valuable early learning experiences. With research showing that the achievement gap between high- and low-income children — as wide as 60 percentage points — exists upon kindergarten entry, ensuring all children are school-ready must be a top priority. While the House of Representatives recognized the need for such a program last year, the Early Learning Challenge Fund was left out of the final legislation agreed to by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama. The Children’s Defense Fund supports the enactment and funding of the Early Learning Challenge Fund, which will take a much-needed step toward bridging the early learning gap that leaves millions of children unable to access the quality early education programs they need and deserve.