Thanks in large part to the Senate HELP and House Education and the Workforce committees, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a bipartisan overhaul of the nation’s most prominent public education law, was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama on December 10, 2015. We are grateful that Congress championed this critically important work for the many American families who struggle to find, and afford, quality learning opportunities for their young children. ESSA elevates early learning as a vital component of every child’s path to college- and career-readiness, and authorizes dedicated funding for preschool through the Preschool Development Grant program – the first of its kind. In the year since its passage, states have hit the ground running and are using ESSA to further their early learning initiatives. The accompanying letter to Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray, Rep. Foxx, Rep. Scott, Secretary Price, and Secretary DeVos, shows states’ incredible progress and our commitment to continue working with the 115th Congress and the U.S. Department of Education to ensure ESSA’s successful implementation.

States have been making significant progress towards completing their ESSA plans including using the law to further new and expanded opportunities to support high quality early learning. Through the collaborative efforts of educators; school and district leaders; policymakers and other stakeholders; the following four states represent great examples of how to leverage ESSA to strengthen and expand families’ access to high quality early learning programs.

In order to help states develop comprehensive and effective ESSA consolidated plans, the First Five Years Fund designed ‘What Early Learning in ESSA Can Look Like for States and Districts’ to highlight the law’s early learning provisions as well as others that could strengthen and expand early childhood initiatives at the state and local level. Key provisions drawn from the U.S. Department of Education’s non-regulatory ESSA Guidance is cited throughout the document, along with initial policy recommendations and supplementary resources.

Tennessee will use Title I funding to support its youngest learners by developing a portfolio model that measures student growth over the course of the instruction year in pre-K and kindergarten and designing a new kindergarten entry assessment.

North Carolina plans to use funding from ESSA to execute a birth to third grade vision that prioritizes the transition to kindergarten, supports professional development for early childhood teachers, and intentionally incorporates early childhood education into its accountability standards.

Washington will utilize ESSA to advance existing statewide early learning initiatives, and provide technical assistance to school districts regarding the availability and use of ESSA funds for early learning opportunities.

Michigan plans to utilize flexibility within ESSA to bridge early childhood education programs with elementary school to improve alignment, collaboration and coordination of P-12 programs.