The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was enacted in December 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 and, for the first time, incorporates early learning across the law. Although ESSA’s predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, permitted grantees to make 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 early childhood education knowledge and capacity among teachers, leaders, and other staff serving young children. ESSA also includes the first-ever dedicated funding stream for early childhood education (ECE) with the new Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five program (PDG B-5).
PDG B-5 provides competitive grants, managed jointly by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education, for states to improve coordination, quality, and access for ECE. Championed by Senator Isakson (R-GA) and Senator Murray (D-WA), PDG B-5 is distinct from the U.S. Department of Education grants made to states in 2015 and 2016, now referred to as Legacy PDG program, which provided greatly needed funding for state development and expansion of access to high-quality pre-k for 4-year-olds from low-income backgrounds.
ESSA also shifts significant policy decisions to states, which could help promote greater early learning alignment and coordination with elementary school. These changes will enable states 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. In combination with early learning’s elevation throughout the law, states will be able to use these statutory improvements, and related federal funding, to support work they are already doing to further their early learning goals.
As the new law’s implementation 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 from low-income families can access comprehensive early learning opportunities and arrive ready for kindergarten on day one.
Latest Update: To receive federal education dollars, states were required to submit plans to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) describing how they would comply with ESSA. Plans were submitted in two rounds in 2017, with the majority being approved in 2018 and implementation of the plans beginning in the 2018-19 school year. Few early-learning provisions in ESSA were mandated; nonetheless, many states proactively and voluntarily included ECE in their ESSA plans. Additionally, in January 2019, the Administration for Children and Families announced that 46 states and territories were awarded funding through PDG B-5.