Early Childhood Fellows Program


early childhood fellows logo including capitol dome


The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is pleased to announce a year-long Early Childhood (formerly Learning) Fellows program for state legislators and staff. States have been leading efforts to improve the quality of child care, implementing preschool and innovative ways to support families with young children across the age spectrum from birth to kindergarten and into the early grades. They are also addressing challenges with governance, financing, data systems and teacher training/professional development.

Scientific and evaluation research provide new insights into both child development and programs that are showing results. Federal initiatives, such as the Preschool Development Birth Through Five Grant and the federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting, will boost early childhood and home visiting funds in the coming years.

NCSL’s Early Learning Fellows program is funded through a grant from the Alliance for Early Success. Previous funders of the program include: the Alliance for Early Success, Bezos Family Foundation, the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Mattel, Inc.


This endeavor, now starting a tenth year, is designed to support legislators and legislative staff who are experienced or emerging leaders on early childhood and early learning issues. The program is geared toward those chairing or serving on human services, education or appropriation committees who want to expand their knowledge and learn from other legislators and experts across the country. Legislatures have been addressing program and policy issues such as providing high-quality child care and prekindergarten, financing strategies, teacher professional development, family support issues like home visiting,  and early childhood governance challenges in their states. Fellows will have the opportunity to be part of a peer learning community with other legislators and to engage with research and policy experts who are leaders in the field. Fellows will participate in a kick-off and final meeting as well as two virtual seminars throughout the year. In addition, NCSL will be available to provide background research, testimony, bill drafting ideas or other research to support your efforts.

As a participant in the program you will: 

  • Build your knowledge alongside legislators and staff about new research and policy.
  • Be part of a peer-learning environment fostering the exchange of ideas and solutions related to early learning, the opportunity gap, and many other issues.
  • Meet, connect and learn from other legislative leaders.
  • Identify action steps as part of a practical early learning plan for immediate use in your state.
  • Receive the exclusive opportunity to speak and learn from leading researchers and policy experts.

Fellows Highlight Section

Since the Fellows program began in 2011 NCSL has tried to capture quotes, ideas and plans that Fellows have related to the field of early care and education. This section is to highlight the great work that Fellows have done and are currently doing.

Additional quotes and stories coming soon. Have something to add email cyf-info@ncsl.org.

 "Photo of Sen. SoholtI have enjoyed the opportunity of being part of this group and working with political friends from around the country. The rich information learned at the May 2013 meeting was immediately put to use…and I truly appreciated the contact to NCSL and experts to deepen my knowledge of early care issues." —Senator Deb Soholt (R-S.D.), participant in the second class


 Photo of Rep. Sykes"It was truly wonderful to meet in person, people from around the country that have the same agenda…. supporting access to early childhood education." —Senator Vernon Sykes (D-Ohio), participant in the second class

 Sykes was in the House when he participated as an Early Learning Fellow.


 Senator Kate Sullivan of Nebraska"The fellows program has been a unique and rewarding experience in so many ways: learning from and networking with colleagues from other states, hearing about research and cutting-edge information on early learning, and (most of all) applying all of this to actual steps to take in our respective states. Great action-oriented program." —Senator Kate Sullivan (NP-Neb.), participant in the third class

 Rep. Terri Collins of Alabama"It has been an honor to be part of the fellows group. At our first face-to-face meeting in May 2014 in Denver, I found the information presented and site visit to the Educare program interesting and even inspiring. One of the most interactive webinars that I have ever participated in was the June 2014 Fellows webinar where Steve Barnett talked about pre-K. Being from Alabama I have a lot to add to a conversation about pre-K and felt as though I was able to do so on this webinar. I look forward to the remaining face-to-face meeting and final webinar as a fellow." —Representative Terri Collins (R-Ala.), participant in the third class

"As a brand new legislator, starting my first full session in 2016, I really enjoyed being an Early Learning Fellow. The fellows program was an extremely comprehensive program that looked at early learning issues and the importance of early learning in a young child’s life. Having an opportunity to explore solutions with legislators from other states was very beneficial. I highly encourage my fellow state legislators from around the country to also take advantage of this opportunity to help the children of their state." —Representative Mark Kinner (R-Wy.), participant in the fourth class

"Beginning with the first series of the fellows program, I have learned so much about cutting edge research into early childhood brain science, policy that pushes the envelope and from providers putting best practices to work. The Early Learning Fellows program was such a great experience and I am putting what I learned to good use during this 2016 session by working on a bill that limits preschool suspensions and expulsions. Thanks to the staff at NCSL for their support!" —Representative Susan Lontine (D-Colo.), participant in the fourth class

Photo of Rep. Donny Lambeth of North Carolina"Rarely does participation in a training program have a significantly profound impact on the work in which I am involved; however, my experiences with the Early Learning Fellowship Program did just that. The information presented positively affected the way in which I think about early learning for children from birth to school years. The program provided new tools and proven models of success which, when applied, will assist educators in my state build a positive foundation for children who need the most support. I highly recommend this program to other legislators who are looking for innovative and proven methods of success in learning." —Representative Donny C. Lambeth (R-N.C.), participant in the fifth class

Photo of Bethany Anderson of Wisconsin"It was a rewarding and enlightening experience to take part in the NCSL Early Learning Fellows Program as a legislative staff. NCSL recognizes the value of bringing staff into the fold for these important presentations and conversations. The atmosphere of the program was inclusive, staff were given a seat at the table alongside legislators and were treated as colleagues. It was professionally fulfilling to use this expertise to enhance policy and legislation once I returned home. I highly recommend this program to fellow staff." —Bethany Anderson, research assistant in the Office of Representative Joan Ballweg (R-Wis.), participant in the fifth class

"I was indeed grateful to be selected to participate in the Early Learning Fellows Program last year. It was indeed rewarding to be in a room with many individuals with like minds on early childhood education even if we are not all able to fund it to the max. I enjoyed the session on the brain development and parent/child bonding which needs to be shown to every new parent, especially during this time of expanding technology. Thanks again for allowing me to gain more knowledge on where we in Louisiana should be heading regarding early childhood education." —Representative Patricia Haynes Smith (D-La.), participant in the fifth class

"It was an incredible experience as a 20-year public educator and a 10-year state legislator to take part in the 2017 Early Learning Fellows Program. Most of my experiences have been around middle and high school education so this program was very impactful for me to learn about the significance of early childhood education. It truly convinced me, that we could solve a lot of long-term problems, by investing in early childhood education." —Representative John "Bam" Carney (R-Ky.), participant in the sixth class

"The NCSL Early Learning Fellows Program taught me about the science behind early child development, quality metrics for programs, and financial models. Although my state has done a lot of work on early education, I found it extremely valuable to meet with other legislators and staff and problem-solve our similar challenges. The fellows program sparked new ideas, reinforced the critical need to invest in early education to improve our communities, and gave me a solid base to work on legislation back home." —Representative Christine Barber (D-Mass.), participant in the sixth class

Legislative Corner

As a way to keep all Fellows connected with one another and to highlight the terrific work being done in your state. NCSL staff will periodically highlight a fellow and the work they are doing.

Fellows-Related Blog Posts

Selection Process

Step 1:
Annually around the start of the New Year, NCSL sends out an Early Childhood (formerly Learning) Fellows Program description and nomination form to the legislative leadership office in your state. Leaders nominate up to three legislators that they believe would benefit from and add to the Early Childhood Fellows Program. Sample nomination form

Step 2:
All nominees are then sent an Early Childhood Fellows application which includes an explanation of the fellows program and a section with questions about the applicant. Applications are due by a specific date, which is always noted on the application itself. Sample application

Step 3:
NCSL staff carefully read through all submitted applications. Fellows are selected based on their application responses with attention given to regional and party participation. (NCSL typically receives many more applications than we are able to accept into the program).

Step 4:
Selected fellows receive a confirmation letter inviting them to participate in the program. Selected fellows are asked to respond to the invitation in a specific time frame and either accept or decline the invitation to participate as an Early Childhood Fellow. Selected fellows are asked to commit to attending the two in-person meetings and the two webinar presentations. It is important that selected fellows that accept the invitation to participate are able to attend both in-person meetings and webinars.

Step 5:
Attend meetings and participate as an Early Childhood Fellow.

Step 6:
At the close of each year, Early Childhood Fellows become alumni of the program and join a large network with other such colleagues. As an alumnus, you receive invitations to participate in content-specific webinars and other timely pieces of information from NCSL staff, including an online alumni series.


  • Each step of the process has a specific deadline, which is boldly indicated.
  • In order to be considered, you must meet the annually determined deadlines.
  • NCSL’s Early Childhood Fellows Program is made possible by our sponsors noted above. Since this program is grant-funded class size is limited and applicants must complete each of the above noted steps

Additional Resources