Policy Documents

Research & Commentary: Early Learning Challenge

June 21, 2011

Under the federal government’s "Early Learning Challenge" for state early education and childcare programs, states will offer a proposal, then follow through if they win a grant. The pool of money is $500 million of $700 million in Race to the Top grants available this year. Awards will be made by December 31, 2011; each winning state is eligible for up to $50 million.

The Obama administration says the competition allows the best ideas to win federal dollars, will improve education for very young and at-risk children, and gives states flexibility to create and implement education programs. The Department of Health and Human Services will set the standards for state winners and administer the new programs.

Opponents say the proposal gives the federal government even more control over education, encourages states and school districts to chase federal dollars rather than more sustainable and locally controlled funds, and will produce negligible educational results because most studies show early education programs don’t have a lasting effect on academic achievement. In short, they say, the program will be a waste of money and concentrate even more power over education in Washington, DC.

The following documents offer additional information on federal early education programs.



Obama Administration Announces $500 Million for Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge


The U.S. Department of Education outlines the grant competition and its underlying ideas about education.


Some States Wary of New Race to Top Cash


New governors and legislators in several states that participated in the first rounds of Race to the Top are beginning to decline involvement in this round, citing concerns about "top-down directives," federal control, and judging criteria.


The Early Learning Challenge Is a ‘Federal Intrusion’ on States


South Carolina’s education commissioner states his intentions to refrain from pursuing any more Race to the Top money, for early education or any other purpose, because "schools need less, not more, federal intrusion to increase student achievement."


Time to Face Failure on Head Start


This Washington Examiner editorial examines the recent history of Head Start, the federal government’s flagship early education program, and demonstrates the program has been a colossal failure and thus a waste of money.


Study: Head Start Has No Lasting Impact from $167 Billion Spent


Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show Head Start’s small positive impact on vocabulary—its only positive effect—dissolves by the time participants reach first grade. The federal program, created in 1965, provides comprehensive preschool services to more than 900,000 low-income children nationwide. With more than $9 billion in annual funding, Head Start has received more than $167 billion from taxpayers since 1965.


Policy Tip Sheet on the Iowa Preschool Subsidy


Heartland Institute Legislative Specialist Marc Oestreich looks at Iowa’s early education programs and efforts by the state’s governor to voucherize them and cut costs, concluding even these measures are but a small step toward necessary reforms. Oestreich finds the government funding is wasted because the early childhood programs do not produce any positive outcomes. He concludes the program should be eliminated.


The Head Start Impact Study and Follow-up from 2001 to 2011


The Head Start Impact Study and Follow-up researched a random sample of 5,000 Head Start students between 2001 and 2011 and found small gains in vocabulary for kindergarten, but the improvements mostly disappeared by first grade.

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the School Reform News Web site at http://www.schoolreform-news.org, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at http://www.heartland.org, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at www.policybot.org.

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland education policy research fellow Joy Pullmann, at 312/377-4000 or jpullmann@heartland.org.