Center for American Progress

Governors Propose Nearly $3 Billion of Investments in Early Learning Programs

Governors Propose Nearly $3 Billion of Investments in Early Learning Programs

More than 30 governors have proposed new funding to help families access and afford needed early childhood education and care services.

Kindergarten students in Denver participate in an activity during the first day of school, August 2018. (Students sitting on rug; student claps as kindergarten students participate in an activity during first day of school)
Kindergarten students in Denver participate in an activity during the first day of school, August 2018. (Getty/The Denver Post/AAron Ontiveroz)

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

Highlighted states

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.

Appendix: Methodology

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.


  1. Katie Hamm, Cristina Novoa, and Steven Jessen-Howard, “Newly Elected Governors Support Expanding Early Childhood Programs,” Center for American Progress, November 7, 2018, available at
  2. John Halpin, Karl Agne, and Margie Omero, “Affordable Child Care and Early Learning for All Families” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2018), available at
  3. National Association of State Budget Officers, “Proposed & Enacted Budget Links,” available at (last accessed May 2019).
  4. Gov. Mark Gordon (R-WY) has not yet released a budget proposal.
  5. Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, “InBrief: The Science of Early Childhood Development” (Cambridge, MA: 2007), available at
  6. Hirokazu Yoshikawa and others, “Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education” (Washington: Society for Research in Child Development and New York: Foundation for Child Development, 2013), available at
  7. KIDS COUNT Data Center, “Children under age 6 with all available parents in the labor force in the United States,” available at,870,573,869,36,868,867,133,38,35/any/11472,11473 (last accessed May 2019).
  8. Rasheed Malik, “The Effects of Universal Preschool in Washington, D.C.” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2018), available at
  9. Ajay Chaudry and Katie Hamm, “The Child Care for Working Families Act Will Boost Employment and Create Jobs” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2017), available at
  10. Some new investments that benefit young children and their parents are not reflected in this analysis. Many states looked beyond child care, making investments to improve children’s well-being in other ways. For example, the governors of Kansas, Maine, North Carolina, and Wisconsin have proposed expanding Medicaid, which would provide health insurance and improved financial stability for thousands of children. Meanwhile, California is among the states leading the way on child poverty reduction and paid family leave proposals; Ohio is investing in its child welfare systems to help children remain with their families and adequately provide for those who have been neglected or abused; and Michigan is one of several states making overdue investments to prevent children from being exposed to lead. Early care and education programs provide significant benefits, but other comprehensive supports such as these are also necessary to promote child and family well-being.
  11. Steven Jessen-Howard and others, “Understanding Infant and Toddler Child Care Deserts” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2018), available at; Simon Workman and Steven Jessen-Howard, “Understanding the True Cost of Child Care for Infants and Toddlers” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2018), available at
  12. National Home Visiting Resource Center, “2018 Home Visiting Yearbook” (2018), available at
  13. State of Oregon, “2019-2021 Turning Point: An Agenda for Oregon’s Future” (Salem, OR: 2018), available at; Office of Gov. Phil Scott, “Statement: Shared Commitment to Increasing Access to Quality Child Care,” Press release, February 1, 2019, available at
  14. 2019-20 California Governor’s Budget, “Early Childhood” (Sacramento, CA: 2019), available at
  15. Office of Gov. Jared Polis, “FY 20: Polis Budget Letter” (Denver: 2019), available at
  16. Government of the District of Columbia, “FY 2020 Proposed Budget and Financial Plan” (Washington: 2019), available at
  17. Dan Boyd, “New Mexico House OKs bill to establish Early Childhood Education and Care Department,” Las Cruces Sun-News, March 10, 2019, available at
  18. Office of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, “Gov. Lujan Grisham releases executive budget proposal,” Press release, January 10, 2019, available at
  19. “Baby Promise” began with a pilot program using federal funding, but Gov. Brown’s requested budget included an additional $10 million in state general funds for the program, which is counted in this analysis. See State of Oregon, “2019-2021 Turning Point: An Agenda for Oregon’s Future.”
  20. Simon Workman and Steven Jessen-Howard, “Early Learning in the United States: 2018,” Center for American Progress, September 13, 2018, available at
  21. National Women’s Law Center, “States Use New Child Care and Development Block Grant Funds to Help Children and Families” (Washington: 2019), available at
  22. Leila Schochet, “Proposed Bill Would Help American Families Afford Child Care” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2018), available at

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Steven Jessen-Howard

Research Assistant