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Title I Funding Can Play a Critical Role in Supporting Early Learning

Resource February 4, 2021

During his campaign, President Biden announced he would triple Title I funding, which, in addition to his broader proposal to expand access to high-quality child care and early childhood education (ECE), is great news for early learning advocates. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) incorporated ECE throughout the law, including Title I, which seeks to ensure children from low-income families meet challenging state academic standards. High-quality early learning and care opportunities lay the foundation for school readiness, ensuring children enter kindergarten prepared to learn and succeed and helping to avoid devastating achievement gaps that can be difficult and expensive to close as they transition to a K-12 setting. This blog provides a summary of Title I and how Title I funds can be used for early learning. 

Overview of Title I

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as amended by ESSA provides financial assistance to schools and school districts with high numbers of children from low-income families. First established in 1965, Title I serves as the primary federal program designed to promote educational equity at the elementary and secondary levels. Title I funds are currently allocated through four statutory formulas based primarily on census poverty estimates and the cost of education in each state. States and districts that accept Title I funding must agree to a range of requirements, including establishing statewide systems of accountability, assessment, and school improvement. 

Title I was funded at $16.31 billion in FY2020, and in December, Congress approved $16.5 billion for FY2021. In school year 2018-19, Title I funds supported 1,539,675 prekindergarten students (approximately 3% of all Title I students).

Title I and Early Learning

Recognizing the importance of ECE in ensuring children are prepared for kindergarten and do not fall behind later in life, ESSA elevated early learning’s importance in the ESEA, including the first-ever dedicated funding stream for ECE, the Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five (PDG B-5) program, which provides competitive grants for states to improve ECE coordination, quality, and access. With respect to Title I, ESSA amended the requirements for receipt of funds to include references to early learning and added new provisions, including the following:

  • State Plans Must Address Early Childhood. Under ESSA, Title I plans must describe how states will assist school districts and elementary schools that elect to use Title I funds to support early childhood education programs. 
  • School Districts Receiving Title I Funding Must Coordinate with Early Childhood Education Programs. Regardless of whether districts use Title I resources to support early learning initiatives, they must work to increase coordination with early childhood education programs, including developing and implementing procedures for receiving records, establishing channels of communication, conducting meetings with families and other programs, and organizing and participating in training related to the transition to elementary school.
  • School Districts Must Describe Early Childhood Programs Supported Using Title I Resources. If a school district uses Title I funding for early learning, its Title I plan must describe how the district will “support, coordinate, and integrate” services provided with early childhood education programs at the district or school level, including how plans for participating students’ transition to local elementary schools. Additionally, Title I early learning services for low-income children must comply with the Head Start Program Performance Standards.
  • Schools Operating as “Schoolwide” Title I Programs May Use Funds to Establish or Enhance Preschool Programs and to Address the Transition to Kindergarten. Schools designated as a “schoolwide” Title I program (serving a population of more than 40% low-income students) must have a comprehensive plan describing strategies for meeting the school’s needs, including assisting preschool children in the transition from early childhood initiatives. Additionally, schools operating schoolwide programs may use funds to establish or enhance preschool programs for children under 6.
  • Title I Schools Operating as “Targeted” Programs Must Describe How Eligible Students Will Be Serviced, Which May Include Kindergarten Transition Strategies. Targeted program funds may be used to deliver early learning services to Title I eligible students. Such programs must coordinate with the regular education program and may include services to assist preschool children in the transition from early childhood education programs to elementary school.
  • Title I Family Engagement Funds May Be Used for Joint Professional Development Inclusive of Early Childhood Educators. Title I allows spending focused on promoting family and parental engagement, including professional development on such engagement, which may be provided to early childhood educators along with other teachers, administrators, and school personnel.

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