Every Student Succeeds Act Strengthens Federal Support for Early Learning

In December, the President signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), previously No Child Left Behind.  The law, which goes fully into effect in the 2017/18 school year, strengthens federal support for early childhood, explicitly stating that schools can and should collaborate with preschool programs.

Highlights include:

Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (LEARN)
ESSA authorizes a new competitive grant program for states, LEARN. At least 15 percent of the grant funds must be allocated to activities for children from birth through kindergarten entry and at least 40 percent for kindergarten through fifth grade. LEARN provides federal support to states to:

  • Develop, revise or update comprehensive literacy instruction plans that, when implemented, ensure high-quality instruction and effective strategies in reading and writing from early education through grade 12.
  • Provide targeted subgrants to early childhood education programs and local educational agencies and their public or private partners to implement evidence-based programs that ensure high-quality comprehensive literacy instruction for students most in need.

Innovative Approaches to Literacy
ESSA allows the U.S. Secretary of Education to give competitive grants, contracts or cooperative agreements for programs that support thedevelopment of literacy skills in low-income communities. Funds can be used for “early literacy services, including pediatric literacy programs.”

Preschool Development Grants
While it has the same name as an existing federal program, the Preschool Development Grants included in ESSA are a new program, focusing on program coordination, quality and access. These funds will be awarded to states as competitive grants, administered by the U.S. Department of Education AND THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES. The program is intended to help states improve collaboration and coordination among existing early education programs (birth through school entry) and smooth children’s transitions from prekindergarten programs to kindergarten.

Title I:
Title I provides funding to local school districts to improve the academic achievement of disadvantaged students. It has always been allowed to support children beginning at birth, but has not often been used for this purpose. ESSA explicitly states that this is an acceptable use of funds. “A school that operates a school wide program under this section [Title I] may use funds available under this part to establish or enhance preschool programs for children who are under 6 years of age.”

Title II: Preparing, Training and Recruiting High Quality Teachers, Principals or Other School Leaders
ESSA also states that Title II funds can be used for early childhood. Specifically. it says funds may be used for programs and activities to increase “the ability of principals or other school leaders to support teachers, teacher leaders, early childhood educators, and other professionals to meet the needs of students through age 8, which may include providing joint professional learning and planning activities for school staff and educators in preschool programs that address the transition to elementary school.”

Charter Schools
ESSA allows charter schools to use federal dollars to add prekindergarten classes. Previously, early childhood charter programs were not eligible to receive federal funding.

As this is an authorization and not an appropriations measure, it does not come with money. Funding will be addressed during the appropriations process.

For a complete list of how ESSA funds may be used for early learning, see analysis by the First Five Years Fund.

Additional information is available from the National Conference of State Legislatures and Education Week.