President Obama Pushes Early Ed Reforms in His State of the Union, and States Take the Lead


President Barack Obama once again made a splash about the importance of early learning with his State of the Union speech Tuesday. But the biggest waves in early education this year will likely be made by states.


In his annual address to the nation, the president proposed tripling and expanding the child care tax credit, and then followed up today with calls for greater investments in the Child Care and Development Fund, as well as new approaches to help families in rural areas, raising children with disabilities and working nontraditional hours find high-quality child care. And these are only the highlights of his ambitious agenda.


All of his ideas would probably improve the nation’s early learning system, but they are likely to die in a Republican-led Congress with its own ideas about education and a focus on smaller federal budgets.


The frayed relationship between the president and Congress means states will continue leading early education reform in 2015. Consider Washington. This week, state legislators unveiled the latest Early Start Bill, which would support a continuum from pre-kindergarten through early elementary school and encourage providers to join Washington’s quality rating and improvement system, Early Achievers. This is only the latest, with other plans to expand state-supported preschool, quality ratings and home visiting.


Couple all of this with the state’s history of bipartisan support for early learning and a Democratic governor who clearly backs the work and you have a recipe for progress in child care, preschool and preK-3rd policies in Washington state.

In his State of the State speech last week, Gov. Jay Inslee said, “Our most fundamental commitment needs to be to the very youngest Washingtonians. We know the greatest untapped asset in the state is the potential of a 3- and 4-year-old. The latest neuroscience research at the University of Washington shows that at this age, children’s minds have a tremendous capacity for learning. Early learning is the best investment we can make in our future.”

This is a story you’ll see echoed in other states, with governors and legislators on both sides of the aisle backing new and different investments in preschool and child care.


Obama, however, will be anything but irrelevant in this debate. His latest State of the Union makes it clear he will uses his last two years in the White House to make the nation pay attention to early learning, and demand greater investments.