In Focus: Pre-kindergarten

Dec 9, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

ESEA Reauthorization Creates Revised Preschool Development Grant Program

By Hannah Matthews

Following passage in the U. S. House of Representatives last week, today the Senate passed a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) or No Child Left Behind Act. Included in the bill, now renamed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), is a new authorization for a redesigned Preschool Development Grant (PDG) program. In FY 2014 and 2015, Congress appropriated $250 million each year in funding for grants administered jointly by the Departments of Education (Ed) and Health and Human Services (HHS) to support state efforts to expand access to high-quality preschool for young children. To date, 18 states have received PDGs to build or enhance high-quality preschool program infrastructure or expand access to high-quality preschool programs.

ESSA authorizes $250 million annually for a new PDG program that differs significantly from the current program:

  • The program is to be administered by HHS, jointly with Ed.
  • The goals of the program include assisting states to develop, update, or implement a strategic plan that facilitates collaboration and coordination among child care and early education programs and to encourage partnerships among child care and early education programs.
  • One year grants may be awarded on a competitive basis with priority for states that have not previously received a PDG. States may use PDGs to conduct a needs assessment and develop a strategic plan for improving collaboration and coordination among early childhood programs and for quality improvement activities.
  • Grants may be renewed for a maximum of three years. In the first year of a renewal grant, states may subgrant no more than 60 percent of funds to early childhood programs to increase access to high-quality early education programs with that percent increasing to 75 percent in years two and three.
  • The bill permits states that currently have PDGs to continue their activities under the current terms of the program, at the discretion of HHS and Ed. They may also be considered for renewal grants (for a maximum of three years) under the new program.

The bill limits the ways in which HHS and Ed can implement the program, including restrictions on specifying, defining, or prescribing early learning and development guidelines; measures or indicators of quality; teacher and staff qualifications; class sizes and ratios; and other standards. This is a significant departure from the current PDG program that includes robust quality standards for states about design of their programs, such as high staff qualifications, low child-staff ratios and small class sizes, full-day services, and the provision of comprehensive services for children.

In addition to the PDG program, language related to early learning activities is included throughout ESSA. The bill is awaiting the President’s signature and when it becomes law, we will work to ensure that ESSA funds, those targeted for PDGs and other dollars in the bill with allowable uses for early education, are used in ways that best support increased access to high-quality early learning for low-income children.

Look for further CLASP analysis on ESSA in the coming days.

Jul 27, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Missed Opportunity: Young children and disadvantaged youth deserve more attention in ESEA Reauthorization

By Kisha Bird and Christina Walker

Earlier this month, on July 16th, the U.S. Senate passed its Elementary and Secondary Education (ESEA) reauthorization bill, the Every Child Achieves Act ( S.1177), with an overwhelming show of bi-partisan support. The bill, brokered by Senate leaders Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Patty Murray (D-Washington), includes important provisions, such as:

  • requiring goals for achievement and high school graduation;
  • specifying the collection of data related to educational resources, including per-pupil expenditures;
  • disaggregating student achievement data; and
  • allowing funds to be used to improve early childhood education programs and to promote better coordination through agreements with Head Start agencies and other entities to carry out these activities.

However, the bill fails to direct or provide resources to local districts and states to implement effective strategies to improve student achievement and address access and equity gaps for poor and low-income students. In particular, the bill does not include a dedicated funding stream for pre-k or for dropout prevention and recovery for students in the middle and high school grades.

On July 8th, the House passed its ESEA reauthorization bill, the Student Success Act (H.R. 5). Similarly, H.R. 5 does not target funding to address these issues and fails to include protections for poor and vulnerable students.  H.R. 5 would also divert much-needed funds from the highest poverty schools and districts through the “portability” concept. This would allow Title I funds, which have the express purpose of assisting public schools with high concentrations of poverty and high-need students, to follow a child to any public or private school and would undermine critical targeting of limited Title I funds.

Passed during the civil rights era in 1965, ESEA’s purpose has always been to provide educational opportunity to all students and provide funding to districts to better serve poor and low-income students. Today, there is a high number of children in poverty and they are disproportionately of color. Poor and low-income children and youth have far worse education and employment outcomes in adulthood, and they are also more likely to drop out of high school. ESEA reauthorization represents an important opportunity to address equity gaps and achievement among poor students and students of color.

In particular, ESEA should include dedicated funding that would target low-performing middle and high schools and implement proven dropout prevention and recovery strategies to better support struggling students and those who have dropped out. The on-time high school graduation rate has steadily improved to 81 percent for the class of 2013. Strategies such as early identification and intervention approaches for middle school students who feed into high schools with low graduation rates, and the growing number of dropout recovery and reengagement efforts in communities across the country have no doubt helped to spur these positive changes. Federal policy should build on this momentum, not abandon it. Too many students still fail to graduate from high school on time, and students of color still face unacceptable graduation gaps. ESEA should also help states and local districts tackle institutional challenges in supporting students to be college and career ready by providing resources and direction to improve course availability and gaps, counselor ratios, and teacher quality in high-poverty schools. At a time, when a growing majority of all U.S. jobs will require some postsecondary education, a focus on these issues is critical to our future economy.

Furthermore, high-quality early care and education programs play a critical role in the healthy development of young children, particularly those in low-income households. Despite growing consensus on the importance of the early years, lack of public investment leaves many young children without access to high-quality early education programs, including Head Start, public and community-based preschool programs, and child care programs. Both the Senate and the House bills stopped short of providing a dedicated funding stream to provide high-quality early childhood education through a mixed-delivery system for children ages birth through five. Moreover, the bills did not include strong accountability language, such as improved data collection policies and procedures that require programs to report how many children under the age of school entry are served by ESEA funds; which services these children receive and the total expenditures related to this age group; and the adoption of developmentally appropriate, early learning assessments.

The Senate and House bills are now headed to the conference committee charged with reconciling differences and drafting  a compromise bill that is acceptable to both houses of Congress and that the President can sign.  While it is unlikely, the choice to advance important protections for poor and vulnerable students and fund strategies to address equity gaps among students of color is still a possibility.

Jul 16, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Strong Start for America’s Children Amendment Calls for an Investment in Early Learning

By Rhiannon Reeves and Christina Walker

The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, which would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) for the first time since No Child Left Behind was passed in 2001, is currently being debated on the Senate floor. Earlier today, the Senate voted against Senator Bob Casey’s (D-PA) Strong Start for America’s Children Amendment, which would have created a five-year innovative federal-state partnership to expand and improve early learning opportunities for children across the birth-to-age-five continuum. More specifically, the amendment provided for:

  • Access to high-quality preschool by providing more than $30 billion in paid-for mandatory formula and grant funding to states—with a required state match—for high-quality, full-day preschool for four-year-old children from families earning below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.
  • Support for early learning quality partnerships that meet the high-quality performance standards of Early Head Start and blend federal funds to provide high-quality, full-day child care.
  • Promotion of increased funding to serve children with disabilities in early childhood settings by increasing the authorization level of programs for infants and toddlers with disabilities and of preschool grants for children with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities  Education Act (IDEA).
  • Maintained support for home visiting programs and called for their continuation through the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program.

High-quality early education experiences have been linked to school readiness and the lifetime employment and earning potential of low-income children. Despite these linkages, some of the most vulnerable low- and moderate-income families in this country still lack access to high-quality child care options for their youngest children. The Strong Start for America’s Children Amendment further proposed to advance high-quality, comprehensive early care and education systems across the country that ultimately support the goals of ESEA. 

Last week, the House passed its version of the ESEA reauthorization bill called the Student Success Act, which differs from the Senate bill under consideration. If the Senate passes the Every Child Achieves Act, Congress will need to reach a compromise between the House and Senate versions through a Conference Committee; therefore, the provisions of a final ESEA bill would remain to be negotiated.

Earlier this year, CLASP released recommendations for improving ESEA by increasing access to high-quality early learning opportunities for young children and promoting provisions that help youth succeed academically and ensure they are ready for college and career. We urge Congress, in working toward a final bill, to bolster support for vulnerable young children and disadvantaged youth because reauthorization of this important law must protect and enhance robust opportunities for all students, particularly those most at risk. The introduction of the Strong Start for America’s Children Amendment was a good first step in that direction.

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