ESSA Supports More Pre-K Education & Care
ESSA – Every Student Succeeds Act – was signed into law by President Obama in December 2015. This act reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act with support for more Pre-K education. ESSA was enacted by strong support of both Democrats and Republicans.
Over time, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act has lowered dropout rates and increased the number of high school graduates. This act has built a firm foundation for improving our system of public education. This is the first time that reauthorization has included Pre-K learning as a significant part of elementary and secondary education, of literacy, and of graduation from high school.
ESSA includes provisions to strengthen the funding of early care and learning, especially for the children of low and moderate income families. The provisions include the coordination of:
- public and private Pre-K programs within each state,
- literacy and math programs from Pre-K to kindergarten and throughout grade school,
- federal and state financial support with possible help from title 1,
- grants to fund Preschool Development, found in Section 9212 of ESSA.
In general, ESSA updates the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that was signed into law in 2001 by President George W. Bush. Some goals of this law were to improve literacy, reduce the achievement gap in K-12 and improve rates of high school graduation. This law stressed the importance of testing and test scores. The testing identified the particular schools where students were failing to learn. In general, the achievement gap existed in areas with low-income families, and poorly funded schools compared to the funding available in wealthier suburbs. But there are other factors such as students who speak English as a second language and/or students with learning differences that require special tutoring.
However, many teachers, parents and students abhorred the overly used NCLB policy of test, blame and punishment. In response to these complaints, ESSA reduces the role of the federal government in regulating elementary and secondary public education. ESSA retains some standardized testing requirements of NCLB, but the accountability for those tests shifts from the federal government to the states. The states and school districts must hold schools accountable for the progress of all students and prescribe meaningful reforms to remedy underperformance. The hope is that the states will be more flexible in responding to the suggestions of their educators and meeting the needs of individual students, starting with early education. This is the first reduction in the authority of the federal government over public education policy since the 1980’s.
There is more public understanding that a child learns a huge amount in the Pre-K years. Fortunately many politicians are speaking about this and recognizing the need for adequate funding for skilled care for children who live in poverty. Perhaps we have to explain what “skilled care” means.