As part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, passed in 2015, Congress incorporated early learning across the law and established an important new initiative, the Preschool Development Grants program. NCLB and earlier versions of the ESEA law have long allowed grantees to use federal education funds from a variety of programs to support early learning investments as part of a larger strategy for improving educational equity or outcomes. The inclusion of the Preschool Development Grants, however, marks the first time in any iteration of ESEA that Congress established a program within the law explicitly focused on promoting access to high-quality early childhood education.

Prior to ESSA, Congress appropriated funding for a different Preschool Development Grants program in fiscal year 2014, and the U.S. Department of Education made grants to states in 2015 and 2016. These grants provided much needed funding for state development and expansion of access to high-quality pre-k for 4-year-olds from low-income backgrounds. But the previous Preschool Development Grants program was not formally authorized in statute prior to its inclusion in the 2015 ESSA legislation. By incorporating Preschool Development Grants in ESSA, Congress affirmed both the importance of early learning to the law’s goals of advancing equal access to education and the central role of states in leading early childhood coordination, quality, and access efforts.

The Preschool Development Grants program in ESSA authorizes competitive grants to states to improve coordination, quality, and access for early childhood education for low- and moderate-income children from birth to age five. States and communities are leading the way  in creating early learning opportunities for children from birth through age five. Managed jointly by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education, the Preschool Development Grants program aims to increase options for parents and includes a focus on supporting high-need and rural communities.

While ESSA establishes the Preschool Development Grants program in statute, funding for the program is contingent on the annual Congressional appropriations process. Congress should strengthen PDG funding to allow states to leverage the newly-authorized PDGs to strengthen state efforts toward building strong early learning systems aligned with K-12 education and improve transitions from early learning programs to kindergarten. FFYF has a plan to work closely with state and federal leaders to ensure that the Preschool Development Program is effectively implemented and adequately funded to support states in the crucial work of coordinating, improving quality of, and expanding access to early childhood education that supports children to enter school prepared to succeed.