12/08/2015 01:47 pm ET

The No Child Left Behind Overhaul Could Seriously Help Preschools

The bill has “historic support for early childhood education”

This piece comes to us courtesy of EdSource, where it was originally published. 

The revision of the No Child Left Behind law now before Congress has an increased level of support for early childhood education that advocates are calling “historic.”

The bill makes permanent a grant program for early education and has a number of new provisions aimed at ensuring the effective use of resources among federal, state and local governments.

The bill, which has passed the House and is expected to be passed by the Senate this week, has “historic support for early childhood education,” said Charles Joughin, communications director with the First Five Years Fund, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.

For the first time since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act  — currently referred to as NCLB — was implemented in 1965, the bill recognizes that early childhood education is important in federal and state efforts to close achievement gaps between low-income students and their peers, said Erin Gabel, deputy director of First 5 California. Gabel also applauds the bill for a new emphasis on coordination and collaboration between early education programs and K-12 schools.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in November.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in November.

 There have been numerous attempts to revise NCLB since the law was enacted in 2002, but this is the first time it has found such strong bipartisan support. In a 359-64 vote last week, the House approved the bill, dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act.

A number of early education advocates in California, including First 5, have signed a letter to California Congress members, urging them to vote for the bill and provide adequate funding.

“While California legislators have slowly begun to rebuild the state’s early learning system, which was so devastated in the Great Recession, it continues to have an enormous unmet need,” the letter said. “If passed, this new and increased federal funding can support California to fulfill its preschool promise – to ensure all 4-year-olds have access to pre-K.”

The bill makes permanent in law the existing competitive grant program, Preschool Development Grants. These grants can be used not only to support coordination and alignment of states’ early learning systems, as in the past, but also to expand access to preschool.

But, advocates say, the true test of the bill’s impact will come when Congress determines a budget for next year. An amendment to the bill to raise cigarette taxes to provide $30 million for early education programs was defeated.

“The big question mark behind the promise is how much funding will be allocated,” Gabel said, and whether California will be able to secure a grant.

California’s application for the current preschool grants was turned down. But the state’s prospects may be better because of California’s recent commitments to early education, she said.

“We’ve had two big years of state preschool investments back to back,” Gabel said.

In a compromise with Republicans who did not want to expand education spending, the grants will be considered part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which administers Head Start. But the grants will be jointly administered by the health department and the U.S. Department of Education.

The bill also:

  • Requires states to align their academic standards with relevant early learning guidelines.
  • Formally states in the law that districts can use Title I funds for low-income children in early education programs if those programs meet Head Start performance standards.
  • Encourages combining preschool and elementary school staff in professional development and planning activities that address kindergarten readiness.
  • Recommends that preschool teachers be included in trainings about how to develop instructional programs for English learners.
  • Requires that states use at least 15 percent of their funds under the Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grants for state and local programs aimed at children from birth through entry into kindergarten.