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Early Education Funding Sees Increase in Federal Budget Bill

Cross-posted from Politics K-12

Federal funding for most schools would be largely restored after the biggest cuts to K-12 spending in history, under a giant spending bill unveiled Monday night by Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress. And the Head Start early childhood program would see a major, $1 billion boost. 

But two initiatives high on the Obama administration's wish list—a Race to the Top for higher education and $750 million in new grants to help states improve their preschool programs—won't receive funding in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 of this year. What's more, the Obama administration's signature school turnaround program would undergo a major makeover, resulting in more flexibility for states and districts to devise their own strategies for fixing the lowest-performing schools.

The Head Start program, which suffered big losses under sequestration, losing 57,000 slots, walked away a big winner. The program got a $1 billion boost, bringing it up to nearly $8.6 billion. Much of the increase—$500 million—would go to bolster Early Head Start, which serves children aged birth through three. The administration had sought a major expansion of Head Start as a complement to its broader initiative to substantially expand early-learning programs.

Another big winner on the early-childhood front: the Child Care and Development Block Grants, which help states offer child care assistance to needy families. The bill includes $2.4 billion for the program, an increase of $154 million over last year's levels.

But the White House didn't entirely get its way on a new proposal: preschool development grants. The administration asked for $750 million for the program, which was intended to pave the way for its broader plan to offer prekindergarten to more 4-year-olds. The development grants would have helped states get their early-childhood programs ready for the expansion, providing money for things like creating facilities and providing professional development to educators. While the state grant program hasn't come to fruition yet, the development grants were included in a fiscal year 2014 spending bill written by Senate Democrats. But the final compromise rejects the proposal—despite a rumored big push from the White House—in favor of a new round of Race to the Top early learning and the Head Start expansion. It's unclear if the Race to the Top early learning competition will be refashioned to more closely resemble the proposed development grant program. 

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