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State Leaders Keep Momentum Going on Early-Childhood Education

Childcare-Preschool-GETTY-blog.jpgDuring the Obama administration, the federal government poured more than a billion dollars into helping states offer high-quality preschool, through programs such as the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grants and Preschool Development Grants. 

The current federal administration so far has shown it has other priorities. But state leaders say they want to keep that early-childhood work going. Two educational leadership groups recently released reports on the role that states have to play in expanding early-learning opportunities. They are also convening groups of leaders who say they want to learn from one another about issues such as funding structures, hiring well-qualified teachers, and ensuring that the gains that children make in preschool don't "fade out" in later years.

State Chiefs Make Early Learning a Priority

The Council for Chief State School Officers has released a document outlining what opportunities exist for supporting early learning under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The document spells out what some states are already doing. For example, ESSA for the first time explicitly stated that early-childhood educators could be included in other federally-funded teacher professional development programs. Several states, such as Mississippi, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, have responded by offering more professional development to prekindergarten teachers.

CCSSO has also created a "Promoting High-Quality Prekindergarten Network," under the leadership of its newest board president, Carey Wright, the state education chief in Mississippi.

On Tuesday, the eight states that make up that network—Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, and Tennessee—met in Washington to kick off what will be an 18-month project. 

Wright has made early learning a priority in Mississippi as well. She's asked for more money to expand the state's preschool program, which started in 2014 and currently serves fewer than 10 percent of the state's 4-year-olds.

"I would encourage you to keep those little faces in front of you, regardless of where they reside, regardless of skin color, regardless of wealth," Wright said, during the Washington networking session. "These children depend on us." 

Boards of Education Outline their Early-Learning Role

The National Association of State Boards of Education is reminding its members that state board also have a role to play in early learning. Released this month, "The Role of State Boards in Improving Early Childhood Education" describes how state boards can affect program quality through creating strong standards, supporting the teacher workforce and creating funding priorities. 

NASBE also has an early-childhood network of four states: Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, and New York.

Kris Amundson, the president and CEO of NASBE, noted in an interview that one area of state success has been in creating early-learning standards. Prior to the creation of these standards, "quality was very uneven," she said. 

But a remaining challenge is working on creating higher teacher-quality standards, which is difficult when teachers are often paid wages on par with fast-food workers, she said. 

"If early-learning teachers are doing this work that we know is important, then they need to the compensation," Amundson said. 

Image by Getty

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