Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Education Community Joining Forces for Our Youngest Students

obriena's picture

Last week, the National Institute for Early Education Research released its annual report on the state of preschool. Among what we learned: Enrollment in state-funded pre-kindergarten programs has grown more than 70 percent over the past decade. But despite trends in growth, total state funds for pre-k were $30 million less in 2010 than the previous year – and would have been close to $50 million greater were it not for stimulus funds. Per-child spending fell an average of $114 last year.

The growth in enrollment makes complete sense. After all, research continues to show the benefits (both academic and economic) of pre-k education. But especially given those benefits, the decline in state funding is quite worrisome. Unfortunately, it is not unexpected – and given the current economic crisis in many states, I could be forgiven for assuming that state capacity to maintain and expand pre-k programs will shrink in the coming years.

That pessimism is one reason I was pleased to see the announcement earlier this week that several national education organizations (including several Learning First Alliance members) are joining forces specifically to support high-quality pre-kindergarten. As a sign of their commitment, the Pre-K Coalition*, whose members include groups that represent education stakeholders ranging from superintendents to teachers to principals to school and state boards of education, has released Framing the Future: Addressing Pre-K in ESEA, a brief that describes the context of early childhood education today, how it connects with and supports school reform, and why it is important for federal legislation to address pre-k.

This brief urges federal policymakers to recognize the power of high-quality early childhood education to improve our education system – power not currently honored in the major federal legislation governing public schools, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Currently, under ESEA, local education agencies (LEAs) may use Title I funds for a number of services that include early education. But given the other required uses of Title I funds, many LEAs hesitate to commit funds to pre-k.

With this brief, representatives of education stakeholders at many levels suggest reframing ESEA to expand policies and practices to include younger children and early education interventions, including pre-k. Possible areas within ESEA that they suggest be revisited with this in mind include access, program quality, P-3 alignment, data collection and workforce preparation.

The Pre-K Coalition is in the process of developing more specific recommendations for federal officials, as well as state and local policymakers. While this type of coalition work is difficult, particularly given the divergent interests that these groups are typically assigned in the mainstream media, where “teachers union versus school board” stories are spun in much the same way as “Democrat versus Republican” stories are in other areas of policies. But as all educators recognize, this type of collaboration is absolutely critical to ensuring that children have every opportunity to succeed.

Of course, this coalition is just one example of how those at all levels of the education community are working every day to improve outcomes for our students. I only hope that policymakers in Washington and in the states are able to do the same.

*Pre-K Coalition members are the American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, Council of Chief State School Officers, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of State Boards of Education, National Education Association, and National School Boards Association.