Center for American Progress

Newly Elected Governors Support Expanding Early Childhood Programs

Newly Elected Governors Support Expanding Early Childhood Programs

Governors across the United States ran—and won—on plans to expand child care and early childhood education policies.

A voter holds her 2-year-old daughter while at a polling place in Kirkwood, Missouri, on November 6, 2018. (Getty/Scott Olson)
A voter holds her 2-year-old daughter while at a polling place in Kirkwood, Missouri, on November 6, 2018. (Getty/Scott Olson)

While many states are still finalizing the vote counts, it is clear that Americans elected 20 new governors and re-elected 16 incumbent governors last night. Many of these elected leaders ran on a platform of expanding child care and early education programs. This should not come as a surprise: A recent poll of likely voters found that majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents all support additional funding for early childhood policies.

Here is an overview of some of the governors who were elected or re-elected last night who ran on proposals to expand early childhood.

Overview of governors-elect

California: Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom (D) ran on a “cradle-to-career” education platform that emphasized early education beginning with improving prenatal care. Newsom also envisions several other early childhood policies, including universal preschool for all 4-year-olds, expanded access to affordable child care, and increased funding for nurse home visits for new parents.

Colorado: Rep. Jared Polis (D) was elected governor last night. He has pledged to “establish universal full-day kindergarten and preschool in every community across Colorado within two years.”

Connecticut: Citing the fact that early childhood investments yield strong returns, newly elected Gov. Ned Lamont’s (D) campaign pledged to fully fund the state’s child care assistance program, Care 4 Kids. In addition, Lamont stated he would expand nurse-family partnerships, which support new parents.

Georgia: Following reports of voter suppression and issues with voting machines, neither candidate has conceded the governor’s race. Child care and early education have played heavily into this race, and the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS) hosted a 2018 Gubernatorial Summit on Early Education in which both candidates participated.

Illinois: Early education was an important issue in Illinois, as both candidates highlighted their track record on early learning. Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker (D), however, made early childhood education one of the central planks of his campaign. He advocated for Illinois to move toward universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, expand child care assistance eligibility, increase access to “birth-to-three” services such as home visiting programs, and invest in the early childhood workforce.

Kansas: As state senator, Laura Kelly (D) advanced the creation of and funding for Kansas’ Early Childhood Block Grants, which support early childhood programs across the state. She centered her campaign on improving education—from early learning through college—in a state that has recently faced severely underfunded schools.

Maine: Janet Mills (D) made history last night when she was elected Maine’s first female governor. As a candidate, Mills pledged to implement universal preschool for all 4-year-olds. She also told the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children that she would convene a children’s cabinet to prioritize young children and expand home visiting and Head Start.

Maryland: Larry Hogan (R) was re-elected governor. During his campaign, he ran on his record of improving child care. While Hogan has been less supportive of work-family policies such as sick leave, he signed bills earlier this year that used new federal resources in the Child Care and Development Block Grant to double the income eligibility threshold for child care subsidies and improve payment rates to child care providers, which opens up more choices for parents.

Michigan: Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer (D) ran on an education platform prioritizing “the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.” She proposed phasing in free, voluntary, full-day universal preschool for all 4-year-olds; expanding eligibility for child care subsidies; and raising child care provider reimbursement rates.

Minnesota: Gov.-elect Tim Walz (D) ran on a plan to accelerate Minnesota’s investment in early childhood education. He promised to provide optional free preschool for all 4-year-olds, expand the Minnesota Child and Dependent Care Credit, fully fund the state Child Care Assistance Program, create a Child Care Innovation Center to encourage the creation of new child care providers, and support progressive paid parental leave policies.

New Mexico: In New Mexico, early childhood education was a hallmark of Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham’s (D) campaign. She promised a $285 million investment in high-quality, full-day universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-old children. Lujan Grisham also pledged to improve access to child care assistance by allowing parents to earn more while still receiving much-needed help paying their child care bills.

Ohio: In a closely contested race, both candidates in Ohio elevated early childhood issues. Ultimately, voters chose Mike DeWine (R). During his campaign, DeWine promised to improve Ohio’s early childhood system by expanding eligibility for child care subsidies, improving child care program quality, and tripling the number of families served through home visiting.

Oregon: Like Newsom in California, Kate Brown (D) ran on a cradle-to-career education platform—one that built on her record as governor. She has pledged to expand high-quality preschool and reduce classroom sizes in her next term.

Pennsylvania: As governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf (D) expanded early learning opportunities by investing in home visiting, child care, and pre-K expansion. As a candidate, he ran on these successes and won.

Rhode Island: As governor, Gina Raimondo (D) doubled Rhode Island’s investment in high-quality public pre-K and oversaw a threefold increase in the program’s enrollment. Under her leadership, Rhode Island was one of only three states to meet all 10 new preschool program quality benchmarks set by the National Institute of Early Education Research (NIEER). With new federal resources, Raimondo also oversaw the expansion of the state’s child care assistance program. As a candidate, she promised to build on these successes in her next term and implement high-quality universal pre-K for all 4-year-olds.

Wisconsin: As a candidate, Gov.-elect Tony Evers (D) promised to increase investment in early education and quality child care, making child care more affordable for Wisconsin families. He also promised to increase funding for full-day kindergarten for 4-year-old children.


Gubernatorial candidates’ emphasis on child care and early education in this election cycle reflects the importance of these issues to voters. The majority of young children have all available parents in the workforce, meaning that affordable, quality child care and early education are necessities for most families. Without affordable, quality child care, parents may have to sacrifice their families’ financial security.

Women of color and younger women are especially supportive of policies that expand child care and early education. As these demographic groups begin to comprise a larger share of America’s elected officials and voting population, child care and early education are likely to gain more support. The midterm elections brought a wave of diverse candidates to Congress, including more than 100 women who are projected to win congressional seats.

Over the coming weeks and months, these governors-elect will be called upon to make good on campaign promises and expand access to high-quality early childhood programs for children in their states. It is clear that early childhood policies appeal to voters. Now, it is time for elected leaders to follow through on their promises and lead on this issue.

Katie Hamm is the vice president of Early Childhood Policy at the Center for American Progress. Cristina Novoa is a policy analyst for Early Childhood Policy at the Center. Steven Jessen-Howard is a research assistant for Early Childhood Policy at the Center.

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Katie Hamm

Vice President, Early Childhood Policy

Cristina Novoa

Senior Policy Analyst

Steven Jessen-Howard

Research Assistant