Multiple federal programs may provide or support early learning or child care for children age 5 and under. Of these programs, nine describe early learning or child care as an explicit purpose and are administered by the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Education (Education), and the Interior (Interior). Fiscal year 2015 obligations for these nine programs totaled approximately $15 billion, with the vast majority of these funds concentrated in Head Start and the Child Care and Development Fund. An additional 35 programs did not have an explicit early learning or child care purpose, but permitted funds to be used for these services. Additionally, three tax expenditures subsidized individuals’ private purchase of child or dependent care.
As GAO found in 2012, some early learning and child care programs are fragmented, overlap, or have potential for duplication. Specifically:
Fragmentation. The federal investment in early learning and child care is fragmented in that it is administered through multiple agencies.
Overlap. Some programs with an explicit early learning or child care purpose overlap, given that they target similar beneficiaries, such as low-income children, or engage in similar activities. However, these programs often have different goals and administrative structures.
Duplication. Some programs are potentially duplicative because they may fund similar types of services for similar populations. However, the extent to which actual duplication exists is difficult to assess due to differing program eligibility requirements and data limitations.Read the full report