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1.6: Government Funding that Supports Early Learning

  • Page ID
    • Gayle Julian & Sophie Truman

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    For more than 80 years, the federal government has invested in childcare and early childhood education programs to support parents and children and help them to succeed. Over time, as society has changed, so has the amount of funding and the names of the funding programs. There is no doubt that as our society continues to change, so will the need for funding children and families across the United States.

    From a historical point of view, the United States is in the middle of a childcare revolution of sorts, as more and more children under the age of six are cared for by someone other than their parents. Historians have known for at least two centuries that the well-being of all children depends on the quality of care received in the early years. Some people believe that as a system, we have failed to act boldly on that knowledge within the government arena and money to support all children is inequitable.

    During the 19th (and early 20th) centuries, a two-tiered system of early childhood education types of programs evolved in the United States. One tier had roots in social welfare systems while other was rooted in the education system providing “preschool” education for middle- and upper-class children (Cahan, 1989). During the last century, the federal government has vastly expanded its role in early childhood education (Yarrow, 2009). In this chapter, we will focus on government involvement in terms of funding.

    As previously mentioned, in 1933 the first federal investment in childcare was made in response to the Great Depression. The Emergency Nursery School program provided childcare for the children of people working government paid jobs and by 1935, the Aid to Dependent Children program was included in part of the President Roosevelt’s New Deal. During this time, many childcare centers were open seven days a week for 12 months a year and even provided infirmaries for sick children and hot meals for families to take home after work. This all sounds wonderful, but one must remember that it took two wars and demands on the workforce for the government to make such meaningful resources for working families.

    Image 1.9 Mrs. Schroeder goes to work is licensed under CC by 1.0

    After World War II, expansion of public kindergarten began, and the government funded programs for low-income children through Head Start funding and federal childcare subsidies. The goals for the funding was to prepare children living in low income households for elementary school, and now Head Start offers a range of comprehensive services to strengthen families. In 1994, Early Head Start was created to support pregnant women, infants, and toddlers through age three.

    In 1974, Federal dollars helped to create the Social Services Block Grant, to support parents in the workforce by supporting childcare services and in 1990 this program was extended to families with incomes that did not qualify under previous income guidelines. President Bill Clinton signed a law that brought welfare reform to working families in 1996 under a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

    Over the past two decades, as we learn more about children’s brain development and research into quality early learning experiences filter into the government scene, Congress is increasing funding for already existing programs. Head Start has had an increase from 6.8 to 10.6 billion dollars to serve over 1 million children from birth to age 5 and the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) program saw an increase to 8.1 billion dollars to serve 1.3 million children and 769,000 families each month (

    The role that an individual state plays in childcare comes from state involvement in both federally funded and state-initiated programs. For example, not all states match federal funds allocated to some federally funded programs and states can determine the eligibility criteria for participation in federally funded programs.

    Every state regulates childcare in some form and all states license childcare centers. In Washington State, the Department of Children, Youth and Families is responsible for licensing and monitoring of licenses for childcare and family childcare centers.


    Washington State Involvement in Setting Standards for the Field

    In Washington State, the Department of Children, Youth and Families is the agency that supports adult educators who care for and teach young children. The mission of the agency is to “provide a comprehensive framework and delivering of services for professional development that includes adult learning and workforce development to ensure improved outcomes for children, youth and the adults who provide education and services” (DCYF, 2020).

    The agency supports state approved training through in-service known as STARS recorded in a registry program entitled MERIT. The guiding framework for providing training is found in a document called the Core Competencies. More about this system can be found in chapter 2.

    What the state recognizes is that child outcomes can improve when children attend quality early learning programs and when teacher’s skills and education levels are supported. To that end, Washington State offers a career planning portal ( to assist students as they begin to plan their career in early learning. Each community college in the state offers the Early Childhood Stackable Certificates, of which this class is a part, within the initial ECE certificate. Assistance to go to school is provided at most community colleges through the Early Achievers program which can often fund tuition, books and other costs for students working in the field at an Early Achiever’s rated childcare site. In addition, financial assistance can be given to students pursuing a bachelor’s degree through Child Care Aware. In addition, DCYF works with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to support professionals working with school age children.

    This page titled 1.6: Government Funding that Supports Early Learning is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gayle Julian & Sophie Truman.

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