In Focus: Pre-kindergarten

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.

Feb 12, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

ESEA Reauthorization Provides Opportunity to Bolster Support for Vulnerable Young Children and Disadvantaged Youth

By Christina Walker and Kisha Bird

Congress is currently considering the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), a law established in 1965 to provide funding to primary and secondary education. To inform their crucial debate, CLASP has released recommendations focused on young children and early childhood education, as well as academic success and college readiness for disadvantaged youth.

ESEA emphasizes equal access to high-quality programs to give every child a fair chance at success in school and life. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently appealed for the reauthorization of ESEA, which has not been updated since No Child Left Behind in 2001. And last Monday, President Obama released his FY 2016 budget proposal, which included bold initiatives to support our nation’s most vulnerable families, including an increased investment in ESEA.

Young children experience the highest incidence of poverty, with young adults close behind. Black and Hispanic children are disproportionately affected. Children and youth who are poor or from low-income communities have far worse education and employment outcomes in adulthood. High-quality early care and education programs play a critical role in the healthy development of young children, particularly those in low-income households. But 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.

Youth and young adults are suffering, too. Many school districts are failing to provide high-quality education that keeps students engaged. For every 10 students that begin 9th grade, 2 fail to graduate from high school 4 years later. It’s critical that we strengthen the education system to ensure all students graduate and are prepared for postsecondary opportunities and careers.

ESEA has the potential to improve access to high-quality early learning opportunities for young children and ensure youth succeed academically and are ready for college and careers. CLASP recommends the following priorities be included in an ESEA reauthorization:

  • Provide a dedicated federal funding stream for early childhood education.
  • Improve early childhood services for children birth through school entry.
  • Ensure college and career readiness for all students by addressing disparities in school systems, particularly those with high-minority populations.
  • Fund dropout prevention and recovery strategies and interventions, including multiple education pathways and options for struggling and out-of-school youth.
  • Promote collaboration with other systems and sectors, such as human services and workforce systems and community based organizations, in order to better serve poor and low-income students.
  • Encourage states to invest in accountability and data systems that inform planning and programming around dropout prevention and recovery. 

A reauthorization of this important law must protect and enhance robust opportunities for all students, particularly those most at risk. Young children and disadvantaged youth are two key populations that deserve more attention in ESEA.

Read CLASP’s ESEA recommendations>>>

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