New Governors Take the Long View in Addressing Early Childhood Development

State policymakers have historically promoted early childhood development improvements, but this year a growing number are acknowledging children’s early years as critical in determining their future health and success during adulthood. As a result, governors are promoting investments in the future health of their states by focusing resources on their youngest citizens.

This investment can be a productive one – studies analyzing multiple programs have found that every $1 invested in early childhood programs can yield a $2 to $4 return.

“Making full-day kindergarten available and accessible for all children sets kids up to be more successful in school and throughout their lives — improving performance, narrowing achievement gaps, leading to earlier identification and intervention for those with special needs, even increasing high school graduation rates down the road. … It will save taxpayer money in the long run by increasing incomes and decreasing the achievement gap. It will strengthen families, our communities, and our economy.” – Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, 2019 State of the State Address.

California and Ohio are examples of states whose governors have taken this long view and focused on healthy child development.


Gov. Mike DeWine, who discussed the importance of early childhood development on his campaign website as an “opportunity for every Ohio kid,” signed an executive order on Jan. 14, 2019, creating the Governor’s Children’s Initiative. The goals of the initiative include:

  • Improving communication and coordination across all state agencies that provide children’s services;
  • Encouraging local, state, federal, and private-sector partners to align efforts and investments to have the largest possible impact to improve outcomes for Ohio’s children;
  • Advancing policies to improve home visiting, early intervention services, early childhood education, foster care, and child physical and mental health; and

To coordinate and spearhead the initiative, Gov. DeWine created the director of the Governor’s Children’s Initiative position to be the point of contact for the many agencies that are involved. The position, recently filled by LeeAnne Cornyn, is situated within the governor’s office and has the authority to organize the initiative and issue directives across state cabinet agencies, boards, and commissions. To explore this and other organizational models that governors have created to carry out their health-related priorities, explore NASHP’s Organizational Models to Advance Health chart and read NASHP’s Toolkit on Upstream Health Priorities for New Governors.

Gov. Dewine’s current 2019 budget proposal includes significant investment in young children. Notably, the budget:

  • Recognizes the return on investment for home visiting programs, and proposes an additional $30 million to support evidence-based approaches to home visiting; and
  • Proposes a $46.5 million investment in early intervention programs through Ohio’s Department of Developmental Disabilities. The additional funding would expand eligibility for early intervention services and care coordination.


In January, 2019, California Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed a budget with a special focus on early childhood intervention whose three-pronged strategy includes:

  • Improved early education and health care service access, which includes making preschool accessible to all four-year olds regardless of income, investing in child care, and improving access to developmental screening and referrals;
  • A two-generation approach that supports parents through an expansion of paid family leave, home-visiting assistance, and medical screening so that they can support their children; and
  • Easing financial burden on low-income parents, including increased California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKS) grants that recognize the importance of stable food and housing as prerequisites for healthy development.

Ohio and California’s approaches recognize that supporting children’s well-being and development in their first years of life requires collaboration across multiple agencies to effectively focus resources and initiatives.

NASHP’s Healthy Child Development State Resource Center highlights successful state Medicaid and other early childhood policies nationwide, and illustrates how states can effectively promote early identification and intervention. The resource center will continue to be an information hub as the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) tracks state policies that promote children’s health and well-being. NASHP will also continue to monitor how governors use policy levers to improve early childhood development so young children can become healthy, educated, productive citizens.