- The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), slated for a Senate vote following last week's victory in the House, will make existing Preschool Development Grants permanent by law.
- The grants are designed to “support coordination and alignment of states’ early learning systems” and “expand access to preschool,” EdSource reports, and will fall under the purview of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with joint administration from the U.S. Department of Education.
- Early education advocates are heartened by the possibility of increased federal pre-K support, with those in California, for example, signing a letter to Congress urging support of the ESSA because the state’s early learning system is still reeling from the Great Recession and the potential increases to federal funding are seen as an opportunity for the state to fulfill its preschool promise.
Much has been said about the ESSA's provisions to scale back standardized testing requirements and federal involvement in accountability and standards, overshadowing to an extent measures like this increased support for pre-K.
Notably, EdSource reports, the law would require states to align their academic standards with relevant early learning guidelines. It also allows districts to use Title I funds for low-income children in early education programs if they meet Head Start performance standards, recommends that preschool teachers are included in training about the development of ELL programs, and requires states to use at least 15% of funds from Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grants for programs aimed at children below kindergarten age.
Erin Gabel, deputy director of First 5 California, said that the new bill is a important since it recognizes early childhood education is important in “federal and state efforts to close achievement gaps between low-income students and their peers.”
Although lawmakers generally still disagree on pre-K implementation, wide consensus exists regarding its efficacy and importance. A recent study by three Duke researchers found that states can save money with universal preschool programs via lower numbers of students being placed later in special education programs.
With its passage last week in the House, the Every Student Succeeds Act is expected to pass easily in the Senate and be signed into law by President Barack Obama.