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Education Department Report Calls for Congressional Action on Preschool

Only 41 percent of the nation's 4.1 million 4-year-olds are enrolled in publicly funded preschool, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education.

map-state-preschool.pngTo address this "unmet need," the report calls for Congress to include preschool and other early-learning programs in its looming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the primary federal law governing education in the U.S.

The reauthorization "must reflect real equity of opportunity, starting with our youngest learners," the report states.

"Without a deliberate focus on children's preschool experience in our nation's education law, we run the risk of limiting opportunity for a generation of children by allowing educational gaps to take root before kindergarten," it says.

According to the report, there is little equity for early learners now, at least when considered on a state-by state level. Using numbers from the National Institute for Early Education Research's 2013 report, the authors of the Education Department report point out that while Florida, Oklahoma, Vermont and the District of Columbia served more than 70 percent of their 4-year-olds in state-funded preschool, 11 other states served fewer than 10 percent of theirs.

The report also makes the case for the Education Department's existing programs meant to support early learning.

It details the Preschool Development Grant program—funds awarded to states to start or expand publicly funded preschool—and points out that 285,000 additional preschoolers could have been served if enough funding existed to award grants to all 35 states (and Puerto Rico) that applied. Only 18 of the 36 applications were granted.

Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge—another competitive-grant program meant to help states form and execute a more-cohesive early-education agenda—is also explained in the report.

Under President Barack Obama's fiscal year 2016 budget, continuation grants would be offered to current grantees under both programs, and the Preschool Development Grant program would be opened up to more states.

If you've been following early education policy closely for the past year, you'll notice that there is nothing very new included in this report. Most of the numbers have been reported previously on this blog, and the political strategies of offering competitive grants and including early education in the ESEA reauthorization are not brand new concepts.

However, the report does bring a lot of information together into one place and provides a cohesive picture of this administration's plans for expanding early education. If nothing else, the report leaves no doubt that early education remains a top priority for Obama and his education department.

Graphic: U.S. Department of Education

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