The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was enacted in December of 2015 with overwhelming bipartisan support and reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which was enacted in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. ESSA prioritizes equal access to education and closing opportunity gaps—issues that originate before children enter the K-12 system.

Recognizing the importance of early childhood education (ECE) in ensuring children are prepared for kindergarten and do not fall behind later in life, the nation’s comprehensive K-12 education legislation incorporates early learning across the law for the first time. This includes the first-ever dedicated funding stream for ECE, the Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five program (PDG B-5), which provides competitive grants for states to improve ECE coordination, quality and access.

The overwhelming evidence shows that children who enter kindergarten behind are likely to remain behind throughout their educational careers and beyond. These gaps in achievement are difficult and expensive to close with K-12 education alone, and they can last a lifetime. ECE programs lay the foundation for school readiness by building the cognitive and character skills children need to do well in school and in life, including attentiveness, persistence, impulse control and sociability. ESSA’s inclusion of early learning throughout the law acknowledges these ideas and seeks to ensure children start kindergarten on an equal footing.

Although ESSA’s predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, allowed early learning investments, ESSA significantly elevates early learning’s importance in the law by promoting service coordination within communities, encouraging greater alignment with the early elementary grades and building ECE knowledge and capacity among teachers, leaders and other staff serving young children.

In combination with early learning’s elevation throughout the law, ESSA gives states more discretion to redesign their school systems. States will be able to use these statutory improvements and related federal funding, including PDG B-5 funds, to support work they are already doing to further their early learning goals and to develop better systems for identifying and improving the nation’s lowest-performing schools, including using high-quality early learning strategies to promote school improvement.

As implementation of the law continues, FFYF is committed to helping states and school districts understand and use the law. FFYF has a plan to work closely with leaders to improve program quality, access, family engagement, school improvement and other provisions to ensure more children can access comprehensive early learning opportunities and arrive ready for kindergarten on day one.

Few early learning provisions in ESSA were mandated; nonetheless, many states proactively and voluntarily included ECE in their ESSA plans. Additionally, in 2018, 46 states and territories were awarded initial PDG B-5 grants. In 2019, 23 applicants received renewal grants, and six states and territories were awarded initial planning grants. In 2020, five of the states and territories that received an initial grant in 2019 were awarded a renewal grant, bringing the total to 28 renewal grants. A summary of funding amounts for both the initial and renewal grants is available here.

Current Funding Level:

  • Under Title 1, ESSA is funded at $16.5 billion, an increase of $227 million above FY2020.
  • Under Title 2, ESSA is funded at $2.14 billion, an increase of $11 million above FY2020.

Click here for an overview of FY2021 funding levels for other early childhood education and care programs.