Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Provides Opportunities for Early Learning

In December 2015, No Child Left Behind was replaced with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This major federal education law implements an important and often overlooked change from its predecessor — states’ expanded flexibility to advance early learning priorities.

In a new report published by New America and the BUILD initiative (“Unlocking ESSA’s Potential to Support Early Learning”), I worked with three other policy experts to explore major provisions of the law that have implications for the early learning system — and outline how states can best take advantage of them. Because the law does not mandate any early learning spending, state and local leaders interested in advancing early learning will need to be diligent in ensuring ESSA supports and enhances their efforts.

“ESSA provides an open door for states to expand early learning opportunities. This can include investing in early learning services for young children, starting at birth; improving transitions between early learning and the early grades of elementary school; improving support for the workforce in order to improve teaching and learning in both early learning and early elementary grades; focusing on dual language learners and other special populations including homeless children, children in protective services, and Native American and Asian/Pacific Islander children; and aligning state and local  planning and implementation for all of early learning, across child care, state pre-K, Early Head Start, and Head Start.”

Unlocking ESSA’s Potential to Support Early Learning, March 2017

The District of Columbia has many strengths to build on with respect to fostering greater connections between its early learning and public education systems, particularly its universal pre-K program. It is exciting to see an emphasis in the plan on improving transitions for all young children and increasing access to and quality of preschool programs for special populations (e.g., homeless children, dual language learners and children with disabilities). I look forward to supporting the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) with implementing its state plan in addition to connecting the work of the Birth-to-Three Policy Alliance, all to improve the odds for infants and toddlers in the District. Learn more about the Policy Alliance and how this group is moving the needle in the nation’s capital.