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Early Ed Watch

A Blog from New America's Early Education Initiative

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Early Learning Legislation in the 112th Congress

Published:  September 27, 2011

Members of the 112th Congress have introduced a number of bills related to early education that, if passed, could have a big influence on states’ early learning systems.  A few of the bills are making a reappearance, meaning they’ve been introduced in previous Congressional sessions, and a few are new. The future of these bills is, of course, uncertain. Sometimes it takes years for bills to become laws, and many never become laws at all. But here’s our summary of early childhood legislation worth keeping an eye on:

  • The Foundations for Success Act of 2011, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) in February, would create a new grant program to help 10 states establish and support universal access to high-quality early learning programs for children from six weeks of age through kindergarten. The act would require states to establish:

1.    Childcare licensing standards for both participating and non-participating programs;

2.    Statewide Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) that assign a rating to all early learning programs; and

3.    Statewide early learning standards for all children from six weeks old to kindergarten.

The act would also require participating programs to align with statewide early learning standards, incorporate teaching and learning practices that have a record of effectiveness, provide required services for disabled children, provide English language instruction for English language learners, and provide (or partner with a non-profit to provide) child health and family-support services.

  • The Ready Schools Act of 2011, introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in July, would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to require local educational agencies to submit a plan for how they will help elementary schools that receive school improvement funds to conduct a “ready school needs review” at least once every three years. The Act would require schools to assess needs for:

1.    Developmentally appropriate curricula, classroom materials, teaching practices, instructional assessments and accommodations;

2.    Services and supports for disabled and limited English proficient children;

3.    Family and community engagement policies and practices;

4.    Building and maintaining a school climate that supports positive development and learning;

5.    School staff leadership and support; and

6.    Outreach to, and collaboration with, early childhood education and service providers.

  • The Early Intervention for Graduation Success Authorization Act of 2011, introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in August, would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and replace the School Dropout Prevention program with a competitive early intervention grant program to states. States would then make subgrants to partnerships between local education agencies and early childhood education providers that serve a high percentage of students at-risk for dropping out of school. States would be required to create a Statewide Graduation Success Plan addressing the factors associated with drop-out risk, provide technical assistance to sub-grantees and implement a Statewide Dropout Early Warning System to identify and direct effective services to children, from birth through elementary school, who are at risk of not graduating from high school. Grant funds could be used to:

1.    Provide tuition assistance to college students who agree to teach in an early childhood education program;

2.    Increase and monitor the quality of early childhood education;

3.    Design and implement a progression of aligned performance standards across all domains of learning from prekindergarten through postsecondary education; and

4.    Expand access to high-quality early childhood education for children most at risk of low proficiency in school.

Local education agencies would be required to use the early warning system to implement individualized interventions for at-risk early childhood students; provide professional development for teachers on practices such as differentiated instruction and use of data to inform instruction; integrate community and family support services; and foster high expectations to improve students’ chances for academic success.

  • The Supporting State Systems of Early Learning Act, The Supporting State Systems of Early Learning Act was introduced by Sen. Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA) in March before Congress voted to include funding for an early learning competition in the federal FY2011 budget. Casey’s bill closely matches the priorities of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge, such as coordinating early learning systems, developing early learning standards, implementing tiered quality rating systems, improving workforce qualifications, implementing data systems for early learning and evaluating school readiness. There are two differences worth pointing out. The first is that the act would create two grant competitions: One for states that have demonstrated progress in building coordinated early learning systems, and another for states that have made a commitment to establishing a high-quality system of early learning. Another difference is that Casey’s version would require states to develop a plan to ensure smooth transitions between early learning programs and kindergarten. RTTT-ELC includes this goal as an “invitational priority,” which means states can write about what they are doing under this area, but they will not earn any points for it.

Last month the Continuum of Learning Act was introduced by Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI). We wrote about this bill on Early Ed Watch last week.

There were also a few other bills that have been reintroduced this year including the Prepare All Kids Act of 2011, introduced by Rep. Carolyn Mahoney (D-NY) in the House and Sen. Casey (D-PA) in the Senate. This bill would provide funding to states to expand high-quality, full-day pre-kindergarten programs. A similar bill, the Ready to Learn Act of 2011, was introduced in the Senate by Patty Murray (D-WA). The Academic, Social and Emotional Learning Act of 2011 was introduced in the House by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL). It would provide funding for principals and teachers to participate in training on children’s social and emotional development.

So far, there has been little or no movement on these bills since they were introduced. But here at Early Ed Watch, we’ll be keeping an eye on all of these pieces of legislation.

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