by Chevy Martin, Executive Editor, RedRock Reports
A robust body of research demonstrates that high-quality early learning programs and services can improve young children’s health, social-emotional, and cognitive outcomes; enhance school readiness; and help close the school readiness gap that exists between children with high needs and their peers at the time they enter kindergarten. On any given day, more than five million American youngsters attend some prekindergarten program.
More than 600,000 additional children were enrolled in state-funded pre-K in 2010-2011 than a decade earlier. Some of this enrollment increase simply kept up with population growth, but the percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled increased dramatically, from 14 percent to 28 percent, while the percentage of 3-year-olds barely budged, from 3 percent to 4 percent.
The most impressive development in pre-K program quality in the past 10 years was the widespread adoption of state Early Learning Standards. In 2001-2002, only about a third of states had comprehensive Early Learning Standards. Today, all but California and Ohio have comprehensive standards, and those two are working on them.
Less progress has been made on improving staff qualifications. More state pre-K programs now require lead teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, increasing from 48 percent to 57 percent. The percentage of programs requiring assistant teachers to have a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential rose to 31 percent from 26 percent over the decade. Still, most children enrolled in state pre-K today attend programs where teachers are not required to have a bachelor’s degree and assistants must have only high school diplomas.
State per-child spending is $715 below its 2001-2002 level. This is a 15 percent decline. A handful of states also provide early education through state supplemental funding for the federal Head Start program, though these programs have seen drops in both funding and enrollment.
The Department of Education promotes early learning by:
- administering several early learning programs
- encouraging States and local districts to target resources for early learning
- promoting State and local education agency partnerships with other early learning agencies and programs in the State or community
- conducting research on early learning through the Institute of Education Sciences (IES)
- funding technical assistance on early learning topics, including early literacy and social and emotional development
- supporting the development of State longitudinal data systems that include early learning programs
Funding comes from a number of sources.
- Race to the Top ($850 million FY13 request), which includes funding for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC). The Early Learning Challenge provides competitive grants to States to establish model systems of early learning that promote high standards of quality and a focus on outcomes across all early learning settings to ensure that more children enter kindergarten with the skills, knowledge, and dispositions toward learning they need to be successful.
- $463 million for Early Intervention Programs for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities, $20 million more than the FY 2011 amount, in formula grants to help States implement statewide systems of early intervention services for all eligible children with disabilities from birth through age two and their families.
- $373 million for Preschool Grants for Children with Disabilities, in formula grants to help States make a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment available to all children with disabilities ages three through five to help ensure that young children with disabilities succeed in school.
- Promise Neighborhoods ($100 million), to support projects that significantly improve the educational and developmental outcomes of children by providing a birth-to-career continuum of rigorous and comprehensive education reforms, effective community services, and strong systems of family and community support – with high quality schools at the center. The Secretary may give priority to applicants that propose to expand, enhance, or modify an existing network of early learning programs and services to ensure that they are high-quality and comprehensive for children from birth through the third grade.
- Head Start ($8 billion) is a Federal program for preschool children from low-income families. The Head Start program is operated by local non-profit organizations in almost every county in the country. Children who attend Head Start participate in a variety of educational activities. They also receive free medical and dental care, have healthy meals and snacks, and enjoy playing indoors and outdoors in a safe setting. Most children in Head Start are between the ages of 3 and 5 years old. Services are also available to infants and toddlers in selected sites.
In addition, the Department is proposing investments in programs that can be used to improve the outcomes for young children and lay the foundation for school success. Funds from the following programs may be spent on children from birth through third grade:
- College- and Career-Ready Students ($14.5 billion) (formerly Title I Grants to local education agencies). Since the enactment of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965, Title I funds have been available to provide services to eligible children birth to school entry. The Administration encourages districts and schools to use existing flexibility to invest Title I funds in high-quality preschool programs for eligible children, joint professional development for school staff and the early learning workforce, and coordination with early learning programs and services.
- School Turnaround Grants ($534 million), which would make formula grants available to States to support States and districts as they implement rigorous interventions in their persistently lowest-performing schools. The Administration believes that implementing a high-quality preschool program that is designed to improve the cognitive, health, and social-emotional outcomes for children with high needs can be an important element of school reform.
- Investing in Innovation ($150 million), which provides competitive grants that expand the implementation of, and investment in, innovative and evidence-based practices, programs and strategies that significantly improve student achievement and close achievement gaps. The Secretary may give competitive preference to applications for projects that would implement innovative practices, strategies, or programs designed to improve outcomes for young children with high needs from birth through third grade by enhancing the quality of early learning programs.
Additional investments (with FY13 budget request) for young children include:
- 21st Century Community Learning Centers ($1.2 billion)
- Assessing Achievement ($389 million)
- Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education programs ($427 million)
- English Learner Education ($732 million)
- Excellent Instructional Teams programs ($2.5 billion)
- IDEA Grants to States ($11.6 billion)