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Meanwhile, in the Appropriations Committee ...

Last Friday the House Appropriations Committee passed its version of the fiscal year 2010 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, which funds early education programs operated by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education.

The bill includes $7.2 billion in funding for Head Start, a $122 million (1.7 percent) increase over the fiscal year 2009 funding level, and $2.1 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, the same funding level as in fiscal year 2009. The bill also sets aside $271 million in CCDBG for quality improvement, above the 4 percent of CCDBG funds automatically set-aside for quality. $99 million of these funds are directed towards improving quality of care for infants and toddlers. These funding levels match those proposed by the Obama administration in the President's fiscal year 2010 budget request.

The bill also provides $146 million in funding for the Striving Readers program, a $110 million increase that will provide funding for a new PreK-3rd early literacy initiative designed to replace the now-defunded Reading First program -- although the committee's funding level falls far short of the $370 million the administration requested for this program. The bill also provides $127 million for the Early Reading First program, a $15 million (13 percent) increase from fiscal year 2009, but again less than the administration requested for this program.

The Appropriations Committee did not, however, provide funding for some new early education programs that the President proposed. The committee-passed bill does not include the $500 million the administration requested for Title I Early Childhood Grants, intended to create incentives for school districts to invest stimulus Title I funds in pre-k. As we've reported previously, the proposed Early Childhood Grants had encountered opposition from both school boards and school administrators, who preferred to keep the money in the regular Title I program, as well as from community-based early childhood providers providers, who feared competition from school district-operated pre-k programs funded with Title I dollars. Congressional appropriators were also unimpressed with the proposal, in large part because it would have funded the new grants by transferring money out of the existing Title I program. Thus, it's not surprising that it receives no funding in this bill. In a prepared statement, Committee chair David Obey said that school districts can already use Title I funds for early childhood, though at the moment just 2 percent of funds are used for this purpose.

Nor does this bill include $300 million in funding the administration requested for the Early Learning Challenge Fund, which has not yet been authorized by Congress. However, as we reported last week, a separate bill making its way through the House of Representatives as part of the budget reconciliation process, which is different from the annual appropriations process, would authorize the Early Learning Challenge Fund and provide $1 billion in funding for Early Learning Challenge Grants over each of the next eight years.

Although the House appropriators don't seem to have made early childhood investments a priority in the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill, when the reconciliation process taken into account the outlook for early childhood funding looks much brighter for fiscal year 2010 (and beyond). And of course the Senate has yet to put together its version of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill (not likely to happen until after they return from the August recess), which gives early education advocates and the administration another shot on funding some of these programs through the appropriations process. Early Ed Watch will continue following the federal funding picture for early childhood programs until President Obama signs a final appropriations bill into law later this fall, so stay tuned.