In 2018, a commitment to improving child care and other early childhood programs helped many gubernatorial candidates win election.1 With significant majorities of Republican, Democratic, and independent voters supporting increased funding for early learning, it’s no wonder that early childhood was a winning issue.2 Now, those campaign promises are turning into action as governors unveil their budget proposals.3 A Center for American Progress analysis of the latest budget proposals of governors from 49 states4—as well as the mayor of Washington, D.C.—reveals that the nation’s governors have proposed a combined $2.9 billion in new state funding for child care, preschool, and home visiting programs. This number is almost one-third of federal yearly spending on Head Start, and more than seven times that of the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, demonstrating governors’ strong commitment to improving early childhood programs.
The need to invest in early learning
Investments in young children are among the most important that states can make because they support early childhood development, parent employment, and economic growth. The first years of life are a period of rapid brain development, and the experiences that children have during this critical period can shape future learning.5 When children have access to high-quality early learning experiences, they are more likely to be ready for kindergarten, to graduate high school, and to ultimately go to college.6
In addition, investments in early childhood benefit family economic security and economic growth. Two-thirds of young children have all parents in the workforce, making child care a necessity.7 Yet many parents end up spending a considerable portion of their paycheck on child care, which can amount to more than $10,000 per year for just one child. Policies that defray child care costs can boost employment and economic growth. For example, the universal pre-K program in Washington, D.C., spurred a 10 percentage point increase in its maternal labor force participation rate.8 One estimate of a large-scale federal child care investment found that it would create 700,000 new early educator jobs and allow 1.6 million mothers to rejoin the workforce.9 As states’ chief executives, governors have the responsibility and power to shape their state’s economic agenda; accordingly, they should make child care an important piece of promoting workforce participation and economic security for families.
Analysis of budget proposals
CAP’s analysis of governors’ most recent budget proposals found that 32 governors and District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) proposed a total of $2.9 billion in additional state funds for early care and education programs. Funding is proposed for a range of programs, such as expanding the number of families reached by home visiting programs; constructing new child care facilities; expanding full-day kindergarten; increasing the value and reach of child care subsidies; and more.
Of the proposed spending, preschool programs received the bulk of funding increases.10 While preschool is a worthy investment, states must also consider the needs of younger children. Infant and toddler child care is more expensive, harder to find, and often needed by parents who are stretched thin on time and money.11 Furthermore, home visiting programs have a demonstrated track record of improving infant and maternal health outcomes but are only available to a small fraction of families.12 While Ohio, Washington, and California made significant investments in these programs, few other states added any level of funding for home visiting. Moreover, in this budget cycle, Oregon and Vermont are among the only states that targeted new state funding specifically to infant and toddler child care.13
While many states increased investment, the five with the highest level of investment per child are highlighted below.
- California: California had the highest total increase in funding for early learning programs. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) called for large spending increases to expand subsidized child care facilities and support the child care workforce; improve and expand campus child care options; provide statewide full-day kindergarten; and expand home visiting programs with a specific funding stream aimed at improving infant and maternal health for African Americans.14
- Colorado: Gov. Jared Polis (D) has made universal full-day kindergarten one of his top priorities in an effort to improve educational outcomes, reduce the child care burden for families, and free up funding that local school districts can use to invest in preschool and child care.15
- District of Columbia: Mayor Bowser’s budget proposed a greater per-child increase in funding than that of any state. Washington’s early learning investments are especially impressive since the district already offers universal full-day pre-K. The district plans to convert old school buildings into new child care centers, expand early action pre-K initiatives, improve provider rates, and expand the refundability of its child care affordability tax credit.16
- New Mexico: In 2019, New Mexico established a department for early childhood education and care with nearly unanimous approval, demonstrating the state’s commitment to improving child well-being.17 Furthermore, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) proposed $60 million to move the state toward universal pre-K, as well as increases in home visiting and early screening services.18
- Oregon: Gov. Kate Brown (D) proposed more than $220 million for early childhood over the biennium. Her early childhood investments include the establishment of the Baby Promise program—which is aimed at increasing supply for infant and toddler child care—and a fund dedicated to improving equity within early childhood programs.19
Budget requests are important signals of a governor’s priorities. This analysis shows that many governors are following through on their campaign promises and prioritizing investments in early learning programs. While these budget proposals must still go through approval and negotiation processes with state legislatures, they are a positive first step and demonstrate a clear commitment from the executive, which is crucial to reaching an endpoint that will benefit children and families.
Federal commitment can also promote access to affordable, high-quality child care.20 For example, recent funding increases for the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) have enabled states to improve and expand their child care systems.21 However, until a comprehensive solution such as the Child Care for Working Families Act is implemented, states will still need to step up and prioritize early learning programs in their budgets.22 Thankfully, these recent budget proposals show that many governors are doing just that and championing the need for increased investments to support children, their families, and the economy.
Steven Jessen-Howard is a research assistant for Early Childhood Policy at the Center for American Progress.
Table 1 data are based on the author’s analysis of governors’ most recent budget proposals. This analysis only includes increased investment that comes from state funding. Increases from CCDBG or other federal funding sources are not included; neither are proposed increases in city or county budgets. In addition, the total only includes funding allocated for state child care, preschool, full-day kindergarten, and home visiting programs—or sources directly allocated to help parents afford these services, such as a child care tax credit. Money allocated to programs in which some level of funding could go toward child care or home visiting services but these services are not the focus of the program—and the amount allocated for such services is not defined—is not counted. This includes broad increases to pre-K-12 systems if none of the money is explicitly appropriated to pre-K, as enrollment in public pre-K is significantly lower than that of other grades in most states.
In addition, this count does not include inflation adjustments or other marginal changes. As a result, it undercounts the total of new resources allocated for child care. Many governors’ budgets are produced on a biennial basis, with funding proposed for the next two years. If funding is allocated across two years, the number is divided by two to calculate the yearly increase.