Senate ESEA bill creates new early learning grants

The goal of coordinated, effective early learning that’s available to all children could take a big step forward if an amendment—one that garnered support from both sides of the aisle in the Senate this week—makes it into the final version of the nation’s keystone federal law for K-12 education.

The amendment, approved by voice vote in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on April 15, would create competitive matching grants under a new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (known in its current form as No Child Left Behind). The three-year grants called for in the amendment would help states coordinate federal and state efforts to boost quality and access in early learning and care.

ThinkstockPhotos-477484225Prior to the vote, the AFT wrote to the committee and urged lawmakers to view ESEA reauthorization as an opportunity to do more for early childhood education as well as K-12 schools. “Increasing access to high-quality early childhood education is a key area in which the AFT believes the bill can be strengthened,” AFT President Randi Weingarten wrote to committee members. “It helps put children on a solid path for success both in school and in life; it is how we help level the playing field in this generation for disadvantaged children.”

The ECE amendment was offered by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), and the lawmakers detailed several ways that the new Early Learning Alignment and Improvement Grants could support access and quality in early learning. Among them:

  • Improved coordination of federal and state dollars for early childhood education;
  • Resources targeted to low- and moderate-income families; and
  • Support programming for infants and toddlers, as well as preschool-age children.

The HELP Committee draft was sent to the full Senate this week for consideration. The House has yet to complete work on its ESEA draft. Differences in both bills, once approved, would have to be ironed out before final legislation is ready for President Obama’s signature.

[Mike Rose]