HELP Chairman Tom Harkin Introduces the Strong Start for America’s Children Act Bill Summary

“Learning begins at birth, and the preparation for learning begins before birth. The investment we make as a nation in early learning will pay dividends for generations to come. Decades of research tell us that from infants and toddlers to preschoolers, early learning is the best investment we can make to prepare our children for a lifetime of success.”—HELP Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA)

The Strong Start for America’s Children Act builds on the framework put forward by President Obama in his 2013 State of the Union Address and reflects Chairman Tom Harkin’s longstanding commitment to ensuring that learning begins at birth. This proposal would greatly increase access to and quality of programs that serve children from birth to kindergarten.

This bill consists of four measures that would:

  • Accelerate states’ efforts to provide high-quality preschool to low and moderate income families;
  • Increase the quality of infant and toddler care in center-based and family child care settings;
  • Support quality improvements in the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG); and
  • Encourage continued support for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program.


Preschool Formula Program: This would authorize a formula program to states for the purpose of providing universal, voluntary pre-kindergarten. States will distribute funds to local entities – which may include districts, schools, Head Start programs or licensed child care providers – that meet high-quality standards. Funds would be disbursed based on a state’s share of four-year olds living at or below 200% of the poverty line. States or local entities would first have to provide universal access to four-year olds before serving three-year olds.

States would have the ability to reserve up to 15% of the formula funds they receive to serve infants and toddlers through high-quality providers – if states chose to exercise this option they would have to ensure that infants and toddlers would enter into the state’s high-quality pre-kindergarten programs once they reached age three.

Preschool Development Grant Program: This would authorize competitive grants solely for states not receiving preschool formula grants. The purpose would be to increase capacity in states to position them for preschool formula grants and to improve states’ systems of early childhood. The Department of Education would make awards to help: 1) states with small state-funded preschool programs expand such programs; or 2) states without any state-funded preschool programs to establish them.

This would authorize $4 billion for Early Head Start-child care partnerships. Early Head Start providers, which serve infants and toddlers, would partner with local center-based and family child care to improve the quality of their infant and toddler care. These partnerships would be funded through the existing Early Head Start

Source: Administration for Children and Families

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