Yesterday President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which passed the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. And included in the law, which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, are several provisions supporting quality early childhood education!
States and communities across the country have made early learning a top priority in recent years. Governors from red and blue states alike recognize that a child’s education begins long before kindergarten. And when we invest in high quality early educational and developmental opportunities, everyone pays off.
The early learning components of ESSA support the incredible work that states are already doing. For example, the $250 million Preschool Development Grants program will provide invaluable support to states, communities, and programs working to prepare low-income children for Kindergarten and their later development and learning. The program’s comprehensive needs assessment and focus on promoting close collaboration within communities, including leveraging existing State Advisory Councils on Early Childhood Education and Care, will ensure existing federal, state, and local resources are used effectively to promote quality and parental choice. Coupled with the program’s other core provisions, including encouraging thoughtful strategic planning and promoting sharing of best practices among early childhood education program providers, will make a positive difference for the nation’s youngest learners and their families.
ESSA also puts a strong emphasis on encouraging greater early learning and elementary education alignment. The ESSA will meaningfully support state and local efforts to strengthen standards alignment; enhance local flexibility and decision making by making early learning an allowable use within important ESSA programs; support early childhood focused professional development for elementary teachers and school leaders; and appropriately calls on states and districts to evaluate their local needs and embed early learning within their Title I plans.
Does this mean Common Core for preschool? Absolutely not. But it does ensure that early learning programs and K-12 systems are communicating with each other to ensure the handoff to kindergarten is meaningful and impactful. Children don’t enter kindergarten and immediately begin learning differently. And ESSA reflects that.
These and other early childhood provisions within the law will ensure states and communities take a holistic and impactful approach to meeting young children’s needs.
The growing momentum for quality early childhood education reached new heights with the passage of ESSA. The overwhelming research demonstrates early learning’s powerful impact on kindergarten readiness rates, academic outcomes, and later life success. Governors across the country – Republicans and Democrats alike – have been making early childhood education a top priority for years. American voters see the issue as a national imperative. And now, Congress is taking note.