In Focus: Systems and Financing

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.

Mar 27, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

House Passes Important Extension for Home Visiting

By Stephanie Schmit

Yesterday, the U. S. House of Representatives passed the “Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015,” which provided a bipartisan, long-term solution for Medicare payments to physicians (this legislation is referred to as the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) repeal bill–and more informally as the “doc fix” bill) and reauthorized for an additional two years the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), scheduled to expire in September. The legislation also reauthorized the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program—which is slated to expire March 31, 2015—at current funding levels of $400 million per year. Overall, the legislation is an important win for vulnerable children and families across the country.

MIECHV, a federal and state partnership that has had broad bipartisan support, provides voluntary, evidence-based family- and child-related home visiting programs in every state. The bill will extend the program to March 2017. MIECHV targets high-risk families who are most likely to benefit from intensive home visiting services, which use trained professionals (often nurses, social workers, or parent educators) to help parents acquire the skills to promote their children’s development. The home visiting programs also help families connect to necessary services, such as health care or community resources, and monitor child development and progress on developmental milestones.

Our recent report, based on interviews with 20 states and 2 tribal grantees, highlights many early successes from MIECHV and demonstrates how its federal funding is being used to expand home visiting services to reach more families while also building the infrastructure to support well-coordinated and effective home visiting programs. Corresponding state profiles describe how grantees are evaluating the direct impact of home visiting and expanding and improving services for vulnerable communities. Complementing our qualitative research is a recently released brief and series of state profiles from the federal Department of Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which administers MIECHV, highlighting quantitative data and other demographic information. The report shows that MIECHV home visiting programs in all 50 states, DC, and five territories served 115,500 parents and children (from birth to kindergarten entry) in 787 counties in FY 2014. Additionally, the first report from a federally mandated study on the program was recently released and showed early findings on what home visiting models are being used, who the recipients are, what needs they have, and other demographic information. With the two-year extension for MIECHV included in the House bill, continued data collection and reporting can assess the value of the program for vulnerable young children and families, adding to the growing body of evidence that includes this latest data.

The House took an important step by extending MIECHV, but continued funding depends on the Senate taking similar action. President Obama has already signaled that he will sign the bill when it reaches his desk. MIECHV has brought evidence-based home visiting services to more vulnerable children in the most at-risk communities. Our report has shown how essential MIECHV has been for the development of statewide home visiting systems, with states building the infrastructure needed to support lasting, effective programs. Research validates the notion that home visiting programs can enhance parenting and support young children’s early development--and can do so with significant public cost savings. The Senate should pass the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 and continue its commitment to investing in evidence-based home visiting to promote positive, long-term outcomes for children, families, and the nation.

The Senate is expected to take up the bill upon return from recess in April.

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