The National Policy Digest

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The National Policy Digest

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VOL. 1, Issue 6April 2, 2012

Bringing you the latest in state and federal early childhood development policy and research.

Questions, Comments, Suggestions for Improvement? Contact Anna Torsney-Weir.


Policy Trends and Analysis 2

New Research 2

Policy Developments and Research from Related Fields 2

News from the States 2

California 2

Colorado 2

Kansas 2

Louisiana 2

Michigan 2

Mississippi 2

New York 2

Washington 2

Wisconsin 2

Policy Trends and Analysis

  • 3rd grade retention: Several states, including Oklahoma, Iowa, and Florida, recently adopted or are debating new reading policies that—with limited exceptions—call for 3rd graders to be held back if they fail a state standardized test. Read more here.

  • Budget Cuts:

    • The Coalition on Human Needs released Self-Inflicted Wounds: Protecting Families and Our Economy from Bad Budget Choices, which examines the impact of the federal automatic spending cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 on more than 140 programs that serve low-income and struggling families. The report finds that the automatic budget cuts will severely damage human needs programs ranging from education to nutrition to job training.

    • Since 2000, state support for early childhood education programs has almost doubled the enrollment of 4-year-olds in pre-kindergarten programs, to 27 percent from 14 percent. Yet per-child spending on early childhood education has declined in the last two years, and the phase-out of the American Recovery and Investment Act will almost certainly lead to further cuts. Read more here.

  • Politics and ECE:

    • The National Women’s Law Center produced a summary of Governors’ remarks relating to early care and education in their 2012 state of the state addresses.

    • A series of recent news reports suggests that politics often trumps research when it comes to investing in early childhood education. Read more here.

  • Quality Rating and Improvement Systems: The QRIS National Learning Network has posted a variety of new resources on its website, on topics including cross-state analyses, Program Standards, Assessment and Professional Development.

New Research

  • New FCD Child Well-Being Index: The Foundation for Child Development (FCD) released a new report, Investing in Public Programs Matters: How State Policies Impact Children's Lives, which combines data from the Kids COUNT annual project and FCD’s STATE Child Well-Being Index (CWI). The key findings from this study are:

    • Higher State Taxes Are Better for Children.

    • Public Investments in Children Matter. 

    • A Child’s Well-Being Is Strongly Related to the State Where He or She Lives. 

  • Social Emotional Development Research: New data from Dr. Cybele Raver’s study of the Chicago School Readiness Project demonstrate that the climate in elementary classrooms is a key component in sustaining Head Start children’s social emotional gains. Dr. Raver, who presented earlier data at the Peer Advocate Roundtable in 2010, notes that these new findings are significant  and that “it takes prolonged and sustained investments in children’s emotional and behavioral development," beyond the early childhood years, to ensure children have the social-emotional skills necessary to succeed in elementary school. Listen to the podcast here.

  • School Readiness Gap Research: The Brookings Institute rpublished a new report, Starting School at a Disadvantage: The School Readiness of Poor Children , which shows that only 48% of poor children are ready for school at age five, compared to 75% of children from families with moderate and high income. The paper discusses why poor children are less ready for school and evaluates three interventions that can improve their school readiness. This relates back to the story in our last issue on new findings from a Stanford study showing that the gap in test scores between wealthy and poor children has grown by about 40% since 1960 and is now nearly twice as large as the black-white achievement gap.

Parent Engagement and Involvement Research:

  • A new study from the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall, “Supporting low-income parents of young children: The Palm Beach County family study fifth annual report “ presents the final report of a 5-year longitudinal study of The Maternal Child Health Partnership (MCHP), a comprehensive system of early intervention and prevention services for low income families developed by the Children's Services Council of Palm Beach County, Florida.

  • A new study to be published in Developmental Psychology examines how responsive parenting interventions influence parent-child interactions through shared book reading. This new study is unique in that prior to the project, the skills that children develop during shared book-reading activities had yet to be examined in relation to responsive parenting interventions.

  • A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “Maternal support in early childhood predicts larger hippocampal volumes at school age” shows more definitively than ever how parental care literally changes not just kids’ hearts and minds, but their brains as well.

Policy Developments and Research from Related Fields

Higher Education:

  • Graduation Rates: According to a new study, “Building a Grad Nation”, 1 in 4 Americans don't complete high school and the graduation rate increased by 3.5 percentage points between 2001 and 2009. Read more here.

  • Education and National Security: A report by a 30-person panel led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Joel I. Klein, a former chancellor of New York City’s school system, warns that the nation’s security and economic prosperity are at risk if schools do not improve. Read more here.

  • Funding for Pell Grants: According to the March baseline released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Congress needs to provide $21.0B for Pell Grants in the FY2013 appropriations bill to maintain the current maximum grant of $5,645 for the 2013-14 school year. That is actually $1.8B less than lawmakers provided through the appropriations process last year. Read more here.

  • The New America Foundation analyzes the potential effect of the proposed All Children are Equal Act (ACE), which, if enacted, would phase out impact of the number weighting in the Title I formulas over a four year period.

  • Secretary Duncan joined education leaders from 23 high-performing, rapidly improving countries in New York City to share ideas and successful, innovative practices for teacher preparation and school leader development during the second-ever International Summit on the Teaching Profession. Read a summary of the event.

  • Secretary Duncan announced at the “Building a Grad Nation” summit that the preliminary School Improvement Grants (SIG) data shows that the program is producing impressive gains in learning. The goal of SIG is to accelerate achievement in our nation’s lowest-performing five percent of schools. The Center for Education Policy released two reports evaluating SIGs. Read more here.

Healthcare: The first-ever Scorecard on Local Health System Performance provides U.S. communities with comparative data to assess the performance of their health care systems, establish priorities for improvement, and set achievement targets. It tracks 43 indicators spanning four dimensions of health system performance: access, prevention and treatment, costs and potentially avoidable hospital use, and health outcomes. The findings show clearly that where you live matters for health care access and care experiences.
Healthcare Reform:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court heard 3 days of oral arguments about the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandate that most Americans buy health insurance. The Court is expected to issue a ruling in June on the constitutionality of the law’s requirement that people must make a purchase to avoid a penalty. If the court strikes down the mandate, it could also choose to strike down the entire law or its major provisions. The court could also delay making a decision until Americans are actually faced with paying a penalty on their 2015 taxes if they do not have insurance coverage. Read more here, here and here.

  • March 23rd marked the second anniversary of the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Kathleen Sebellius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS), made remarks praising healthcare reform. US DHHS is using its website to discuss the accomplishments of ACA and also highlight positive health stories from people.

Other News and Announcements

  • The Department of Education released the 2012 notice inviting applications for new “Scale-up” and “Validation” grants available through the Investing in Innovation (i3) fund, which will include a competitive preference for improving early learning outcomes. Applications for the Scale-up and Validation grants are due May 29.  Pre-applications for i3 Development grants are due April 9. Read more here.
  • The U.S. Department of Education is looking for peer reviewers for the next round of Investing in Innovation grant applications.

  • ReadyNation updated its Business Case for Early Childhood Investments, a short brochure that details why early childhood programs are critical to providing the U.S. with the workforce it needs to stay globally competitive. Click here to view the brochure, and e-mail if you'd like to receive hard copies.  

Upcoming Events

  • April 3rd, 2:00pm: ReadyNation is hosting a webinar on the effect of social impact "PKSE" bonds on school readiness. Participants can expect to learn how social impact finance can be a tool for investing in early childhood interventions and will be presented with an example of how PKSE (pay for pre-k to reduce special-ed costs) bonds can be implemented. Register here.

  • April 10th, 2:00-3:00pm: The Pew Center on the States is hosting a webinar on Medicaid Financing Options for Home Visiting Programs. Register here.

  • April 10th: The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) will release The State of Preschool 2011: State Preschool Yearbook.

Federal Updates

  • The House adopted the FY2013 budget resolution, despite misgivings from conservative Republicans who advocate for deeper spending cuts and unified opposition from Democrats. The resolution cuts an additional $19B from discretionary spending beyond the caps set last summer through the Budget Control Act in areas including education, Medicaid, and SNAP and repeals the Affordable Care Act and cuts Head Start funding, while increasing defense spending.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has indicated the Senate will not introduce a budget resolution and will adhere to the $1.047 trillion spending level agreed to in last year’s debt limit deal. Read more here.

  • U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) has proposed a bill that would counter the House budget resolution by increasing spending on education and workforce training, and eliminating some corporate tax breaks. Read more here.

  • U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that Department’s intention to fund additional state-level grants for early learning as part of Race to the Top. The $550M allocated for the third round of the Race to the Top contest will be split between early education and district-level reform.

  • A group of Head Start agencies from 10 states filed for an injunction against the regulations drafted by the Department of Health and Human Services to determine whether each Head Start agency was meeting "the educational, health, nutritional, and social needs of the children and families it serves", asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to throw out the regulations and force the Department to come up with new ones. Read more here.

News from the States


  • The state will not appeal a court ruling that rejected its attempt to divert $1B from First 5 commissions. Its decision ends a yearlong budget battle and frees up funding for programs and services that many commissions had held in limbo. Read more here.

  • A new report from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California says protecting early education funding in the state could be a long-term solution to keeping children in school, reducing crime and saving money. The news comes as California grapples with difficult budget choices and may propose significant cuts to its preschool and transitional kindergarten programs. Read more here.  


  • Gov. John Hickenlooper testified in favor of bipartisan House Bill 1238, which would create a new state program to improve student literacy in kindergarten through third grade. The governor said improving early literacy is one of the most important things the state can do to position itself for strong educational and ultimately economic growth. The bill was later passed by the House after prime sponsors Reps. Tom Massey and Millie Hamner proposed a successful amendment that softens bill language stating that retention of the struggling students was the bill's "preference" in reaction to debate about retention. Read more here.


  • The Senate’s version of the budget increased spending from the governor’s recommendation to reflect the recommendations of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet at $56M in Children’s Initiatives Fund (CIF) spending. In conference committee, the House agreed to the Senate position on CIF funding, with a proviso that if the tobacco money is less than anticipated this year, funding for CIF programs will be prorated accordingly. 

  • A number of items were not decided in conference committee and will be decided in May during Omnibus. This includes two provisos for Kansas Early Head Start (KEHS): one would require the Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services (SRS) to use federal funding to provide $11.3M for KEHS, and the other would prevent the use of KEHS dollars for a fatherhood initiative. 

  • The Senate passed an amended version of the governor’s tax proposal, stripping provisions eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and other income tax credits. They also restored itemized deductions, including the mortgage interest deduction and charitable deduction. This, along with a number of other amendments, resulted in a price tag for the bill exceeding $3.7M over five years. The House had earlier passed its own version of a tax overhaul bill. The conference committee on tax issues met but did not come to a decision, which will likely be made during Veto Session. 

  • A bill rectifying some issues with the initial Lexie’s Law legislation, which requires all day care homes in the state to be inspected and licensed, passed the Senate and will go to Gov. Brownback for signing. As part of Lexie’s Law, officials at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) announced the release of the new Child Care and Early Education Portal accessible via the KDHE website, which is intended to aid parents in choosing quality care centers.

  • Advocates are supporting passage of a bill creating a legislative committee to provide oversight of KanCare, the governor’s Medicaid reform plan. The committee would be able to monitor implementation of the KanCare proposal, hear concerns about the plan and provide a transparent forum for addressing the shift from HealthWave to KanCare. The bill passed both committees and now must be passed by one house before being referred to a conference committee.


  • The Senate unanimously passed SB 581, the Louisiana Early Childhood Education Act, which was originally introduced by Gov. Bobby Jindal to better coordinate the system of pre-kindergarten and early childhood education programs and to grade them on performance. Read more here and here.

  • The Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families has published its recommendations on early childhood education reform. Read more about their nine recommendations here.


  • Maine DHHS announced that, effective immediately, it has chosen not to renew its contract with the Child Care Plus ME program, which was an essential support for helping children with special needs maintain in mainstream child care settings. There is still a slight chance that the State could decide to re-contract for this service, but that will depend on the final outcome of the state budget process.

  • The Maine Children's Alliance (MCA) has launched an online petition for parents and community members to express their opposition to the early childhood cuts proposed in the Governor's supplemental 2012-2013 DHHS budget.

  • The Office of Child and Family Services issued a notice that that the Child Care Subsidy Program within the Office of Child and Family Services will begin a waitlist for services for the first time since March 2010, joining 15 other states that have a current waitlist for child care assistance.


  • The week of March 25th, the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees for School Aid and the Michigan Department of Education passed their budget bills for fiscal year 2013 (FY13).  The House Appropriations Subcommittee FY13 budget differs from the Governor's budget in several key areas including funding for best practices grants and criteria as well as the creation of a technology infrastructure grant.  The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee FY13 budget differs in areas such as the per pupil foundation allowance, implementation of an early childhood block grant, and pupil performance grants. See details on the Subcommittees' FY13 budgets and how they differ from the Governor's budget in Michigan Children’s Budget Basics report.


  • The Senate (SB 2401) and the House Committee on Education (HB 888) have both passed charter schools legislation in recent weeks. Neither bill currently mentions early childhood education, so it remains to be seen how ECE will be impacted. See similarities and differences between the bills here.

New York

  • New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has emerged as the city's champion of kindergarten attendance since announcing in her State of the City address last month that she intends to make school mandatory for all 5-year-olds in New York. Under current city and state law, children do not have to enroll until the first grade, though the vast majority of them begin with kindergarten. Read more here.


  • The legislature passed a bill to establish a WaKIDS (Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills) workgroup composed of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Department of Early Learning, teachers, principals, parents, and designated partners. The workgroup will provide input and recommendations with respect to: implementing WaKIDS; the best way to administer WaKIDS to children in half-day kindergarten programs while ensuring they receive the maximum instruction as required by law; and achieving the goal of replacing assessments currently required by school districts with WaKIDS. A preliminary report and recommendations are due to the Legislature Dec. 1, 2012 and annually by Dec. 1st thereafter. Read more here.

  • According to a recent ranking by the National Association of Child Care Resources & Referral Agencies, Washington ranked first in the nation when graded solely on program requirements, and second for program requirements and oversight of family home child care providers. Read more here.

  • The League of Education Voters, Partnership for Learning and Stand for Children have released "A+ Washington" a comprehensive reform plan for the state.


  • The Assembly approved on a bipartisan vote an education reform bill aimed at improving reading achievement, implementing a consistent method for evaluating educators, and raising expectations for teacher-training programs. The bill has two key provisions for early learning and development:

    • Would require public elementary schools to administer an early literacy assessment for kindergartners starting this fall. The state would provide an additional $800,000 for the screenings.

    • Creates the Read to Lead Development Council to make recommendations for grants from a fund consisting of gifts, grants, bequests, and other contributions to the fund.  Grants would be to support literacy and early childhood development programs. 

  • The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI), a free-market “think tank,”  released a report on the economic benefits of investing in high-quality early childhood education in Wisconsin, written by Rob Grunewald at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank and  Don Bezruki, retired program evaluation director of the state Legislative Audit Bureau. The report indicates that moving half of the children from 2-star child care programs to 4- or 5-star programs under YoungStar (Wisconsin’s QRIS system) would cost $20M, but would return $60M in benefits every year. The report includes an extensive section on YoungStar, and reviews the strong evidence for early investments. An editorial in the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal, “Wisconsin Kids Benefit from Early Education”, highlights the report.

The Ounce of Prevention Fund gives children in poverty the best chance for success in school and in life by advocating for and providing the highest quality care and education from birth to age 5.

The Ounce National Policy Team partners with and supports early childhood leaders in states as they advance a comprehensive agenda for at-risk children and families. We do this by providing individualized strategy and policy consultation and resources; facilitating peer-to-peer learning and networking across states; and supporting Educare Schools and the Educare Learning Network in the development of their policy and advocacy work.

The National Policy Digest: a bi-weekly newsletter that shares up-to-date and noteworthy developments in state and federal early childhood news, policy and funding changes, research, policy trends and analyses, upcoming events, etc. culled from diverse sources in the field. To subscribe, please contact Anna Torsney-Weir, National Policy Associate (

The National Policy Digest


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