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Knowledge Center
Center on the States
Cultivating, supporting, and disseminating innovations

State Pre-K and Early Learning Systems

Beyond administering child care and home visiting programs, most States also invest in State Pre-K programs and State early learning systems.  In 2013, 40 states plus the District of Columbia invested in 53 individual Pre-K initiatives.  These initiatives provide services to more than 1.3 million children with aggregate State funding of over 5.3 billion dollars.  Additionally, the Federal government has also awarded competitive grants to assist States in developing early learning  systems and expanding programming expand Pre-K access.

Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge

First funded in the FY 2011, the Race to the Top- Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) has awarded more than 1 billion dollars grants to 20 States through 3 phases of grants.  According to the US Department of Education, the RTT-ELC “supports states in building statewide systems that raise the quality of Early Learning and Development Programs and increase access to high-quality programs for children with high needs, so that all children enter kindergarten ready to succeed.”  Read the Department’s Fact Sheet on RTT-ELC.

After the first round of RTT-ELC grants were awarded, NHSA created the Early Learning Innovation Consortium to share information, best practices, and innovative ideas among Head Start communities involved in State early learning systems.  To disseminate this information, the Consortium published a periodical report called, “Consortium Currents" which were released from 2012 through 2014. 

Race to the Top - Pre-K Development and Expansion Grants

First proposed in President Obama’s FY 2013 budget and the 2013 Strong Start for America’s Children Act, Pre-K Development and Expansion Grants were funded under the US Department of Education’s Race To The Top program in January of 2014. According to the Administration, these competitive grants provide funding to help winning states “build the fundamental components of a high-quality preschool system or expand proven early learning programs in partnership with local governments, local education agencies, and other providers.”  In December 2014, 18 states were selected to receive funding through two types of grants - Development or Expansion grants.

State Pre-K Data Sets 

Find the latest data about Pre-K programs and other early learning investments in the States below:

  • State of Preschool Yearbook: Each year the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) publishes a report titled The State of Preschool Yearbook profiling state-funded Pre-K programs. 
  • Kids Count:  The Annie E. Casey Foundation publishes their annual Kids Count data book that assesses child well-being nationally and across the 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.  

Partners for Success

Head Start and pre-K programs already partner at the state and local levels all across the country in order to leverage funding streams and resources to best serve as many children as possible. As legislation moves forward around pre-K funding, it is important to understand that Head Start has a key role to play in the mixed delivery systems states already have or will design for pre-K expansion. To that end, NHSA has prepared the Policy Report, Partners for Success: Case Studies of Collaboration Between Head Start and Pre-K.  

Quality Rating and Improvement Systems 

Nearly every state has or is developing a QRIS to identify, encourage, and incentivize high quality. Find out what your and other States are doing with their QRIS.