During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama said his administration would "invest $10 billion per year in early intervention educational and developmental programs for children between zero and five. Their plan will help expand Early Head Start to serve more children with disabilities, and will spur states, through programs like Early Learning Challenge Grants, to expand programs for children with disabilities, such as IDEA Part C, and integrate these programs with other early childhood programs."
This promise proved difficult to rate, for several reasons.
First, the Obama team's wording was less than precise. The promise doesn't specify that the administration will spend $10 billion in new dollars, for instance. However, experts say that's the only way to interpret it, since federal funding for these purposes already exceeds $10 billion annually, meaning that the administration could reach $10 billion in total spending by making massive cuts.
In addition, the promise is worded vaguely enough to be unclear about whether the $10 billion in new money is to be be spent specifically on disadvantaged young children with disabilities or disadvantaged children generally. Experts in the field have operated under the assumption that it's for disadvantaged children generally, not just the disabled.
If we accept these two assumptions, the task boils down to figuring out how much the key programs were increased either in the economic stimulus bill or in the regular appropriations process.
The stimulus bill, which was passed in February 2009, allocated $1.1 billion in new funds to expand the Early Head Start program (for ages birth to three) and $1 billion to expand the regular Head Start program (which covers preschool).
Another program referenced in the president's promise -- IDEA Part C grants, which aid infants and toddlers with disabilities -- received $500 million from the stimulus bill.
Yet another program -- Child Care and Development Block Grants to states, which supplement state funds in providing child care assistance for low-income families -- received $2 billion from the stimulus.
In the meantime, the regular budgeting process provided an inflation increase of $122 million for Head Start over fiscal year 2009.
All told, the administration has made "dramatic progress" on providing funds for early childhood programs, said Eric Karolak, executive director of the Early Care and Education Consortium.
The one program cited in the promise that did not get funded this year was Early Learning Challenge Grants, but that's a complicated story. Obama had asked for $300 million in regular appropriations for the program but received zero. However, experts said that decision was made knowing that House-passed legislation (H.R. 3221) that is now awaiting consideration by the Senate would provide $8 billion over eight years for a new Early Learning Challenge Fund.
When combined with other new Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) allocations in the stimulus, the total increase so far enacted by the stimulus bill and the regular process is about $5 billion -- a substantial increase, but only half the promised $10 billion. A major piece of the promise, the Early Learning Challenge Fund, is awaiting action in the Senate, and that could theoretically boost the amount closer to the $10 billion goal. But reaching it would require an amount five times higher than what's provided for in the House bill, which seems unlikely. So we're rating this promise a Compromise.