November 13, 2017

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The Advocate, November 2017

By Leslie Finnan, senior legislative analyst, AASA

Early Learning Opportunities in Federal Legislation

While AASA has not historically worked much on early learning issues, we are hearing more superintendents discuss their programs or their desire for more quality early learning opportunities. We are tracking and commenting on several pieces of legislation that could impact early learning throughout the country. Many states have early learning provisions at the state level, but the conversation has also expanded further to the federal level. The Democrats in both the House and the Senate have released a bill, The Child Care for Working Families Act. This bill is intended to be a conversation-starter, since it does not have a chance of moving legislatively given the make-up of the Congress. The bill provides incentives and funding for states to create high-quality early learning programs, increases workforce training and compensation for early learning providers, and increases help for Head Start programs.

On the other side of the aisle, Republicans have approached early learning through increasing the Child Tax Credit. It would increase the annual credit for families with children by up to $600. They say that through this tax credit, families will have money available to spend on early learning and child care. However, the tax credit is only available to families earning enough money to pay enough in taxes to benefit from such a tax credit.

One last way that early learning is being addressed is actually through expanded requirements under ESSA. ESSA allows but does not require Title I funding to be used for early childhood education. Districts that receive Title I funding are required to increase coordination with early childhood programs, regardless of whether they use Title I resources for early childhood programming. States are also required to address early childhood education in their state plans; they must describe how they will assist LEAs and elementary schools that use Title I funds to support early childhood programs. The accountability system must also address the number and percentage of students enrolled in preschool programs.

ESSA establishes the Preschool Development Grants program, which authorizes competitive grant funding for states to improve coordination, quality, and access to early childhood education for low and moderate-income students up to age five. These grants are intended to support statewide needs assessments of availability and quality of existing programs and the numbers of students served and to develop strategic plans to ensure collaboration and coordination to improve quality and access in early education programs.

Under the Literacy Education for All program, states may provide targeted sub grants to early childhood education programs and LEAs to implement evidence-based literacy programs.

Under the Expanding Opportunity through Charter Schools Program, ESSA includes early education as an allowable use. These funds may be used to support charter schools that serve early childhood students.

We are partnering with the National Head Start Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and other education associations to develop and promote a toolkit for state and district leaders to understand the new early learning components of ESSA. The toolkit will be made available by the end of November, so be sure to watch for it. 

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