Last month, when Congress approved funding for the U.S. Department of Education, it established a new $250 million program to focus on expanding high-quality early learning opportunities, but lawmakers were light on the details of the program.
This week, CEC weighed in with the Department to advise three key areas that should be addressed in this new program:
- Devote some of this funding to support IDEA’s early childhood programs, which serve infants, toddlers, preschoolers with disabilities and their families; these programs have been underfunded for decades.
- Encourage states to focus on children beginning at birth to increase the value of an expanded preschool effort.
- Expand and enhance child find activities to identify young children with developmental delays or disabilities; reinforce and strengthen transition processes for infants, toddlers and preschool children and their families as they move from early intervention programs to preschool and prepare for kindergarten.
There has been a growing national focus on the impact high-quality early learning programs can have on later development (check out Secretary Duncan’s top 10 reasons expansion of early learning is inevitable), which comes as no surprise to early interventionists/special educators who witness this daily.
Last year, 1.2 million infants, toddlers, and preschool children with disabilities and their families were served by IDEA’s Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities program (Part C) and Preschool Program (Part B – Section 619).
Over the last several decades, there has been a steady increase in the number of young children who have received early intervention and/or special education through IDEA. However, federal funding has failed to keep up with program demand, forcing states to introduce austerity measures to keep services available, such as:
- 20% of states have narrowed their eligibility criteria for IDEA’s Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities program over the last decade;
- 75% of states charge families a fee to participate in IDEA’s Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities program;
- 34% less funding-per-child for IDEA’s Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities program available now as compared to 1992;
- 37% less funding-per-child for IDEA’s Preschool program than 20-years ago.
CEC – together with its Division for Early Childhood – continue to advocate for a greater investment in early intervention and preschool programs for children with disabilities. Next week, the President will release his FY 2015 budget request to Congress, marking the start of the annual funding process.