Early Learning in State ESSA Plans: How States Are Using the Law


The latest addition to FFYF’s ESSA toolkit of resources, Early Learning in State ESSA Plans: Implementation Snapshot provides an early look at where states are leveraging ESSA to develop new or bolster ongoing early childhood education (ECE) efforts. As of January 2018, all consolidated state plans* have been submitted to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and undergone review. These consolidated state plans are a preliminary indicator of how states intend to implement the new law. A subsequent series of state- and district-level decisions are forthcoming in operationalizing their ESSA plans.

Based on the ESSA plans submitted by states, there is a clear sign that states see ECE as an integral part of their education systems and pipeline—from how they can help schools improve to how they are holding schools accountable.

What’s most telling is that few early-learning related provisions of ESSA are mandated. This resource demonstrates that, right from the outset, states are voluntarily electing to articulate and broaden pathways for ECE opportunities within the larger continuum of learning.

In fact, 13 states have reported plans to incorporate early learning into their state accountability system under Title I. What’s more, 15 states and the District of Columbia specify early learning as a strategy for school improvement within Title I. This is a clear sign that states see ECE as a pivotal piece of the education system.

Additionally, 31 states plan to strategically use their Title II professional development dollars to increase the ability of principals or other school leaders to support teachers and other professionals to meet the needs of students age eight and younger. And 38 states have explicitly included early learning within their Well-Rounded Education Initiatives under the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants under Title IV.

From every corner of the nation, in red and blue states alike, these consolidated state plans have not missed the opportunity to meaningfully factor in early learning as a cornerstone of their education systems.

Note: States are listed if plans included early childhood education in service to a specific statute of ESSA. Being listed below here does not constitute assessment or analysis of that particular state’s plan in any way, rather it identifies which states have included early learning opportunities in their planning. We are optimistic that states and districts will continue to build upon these plans as they move into implementation.