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Federal Report Finds Educational Inequities, Pushes for Access to Early Learning

Published:  February 20, 2013
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Report available from U.S. Department of Education

The Equity and Excellence Commission, a board established by Congress in 2010 to study school finance issues, released its final report this week, For Each and Every Child. The Commission’s recommendations for federal, state and local policymakers address school finance systems; teacher preparation and quality; access to early learning opportunities; students in high-poverty communities; and accountability and governance measures. We turned our attention to the sections of the report dealing with early childhood education – especially in light of President Obama’s new push to expand opportunities in this area.

The Commission cites the research-proven importance of high-quality early learning opportunities from birth to age 5. Early education, the report says, is especially critical for young children who grow up in socioeconomically disadvantaged or non-English speaking households, and expanding access to high-quality early learning programs, especially for these populations, should be of the “highest national priority.”

To accomplish that goal, the report echoes President Obama’s State of the Union announcement by calling for a partnership between states and the federal government to provide high-quality early education to all low-income children within 10 years. New federal dollars would be available only to states that establish early learning systems to provide high-quality preschool.

The report also calls for an expansion of full-day kindergarten programs, something we’ve written about in the past. The report argues that states should provide full-day kindergarten to “students from low-income backgrounds in schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Education.” Here at the Early Education Initiative, however, we think all children, not just low-income or Native American children, stand to benefit from universal access to full-day kindergarten. Full-day programs are critical for sustaining the educational progress made in pre-K.

The Commission also calls on the federal government to utilize evidence-based practices in its own early education programs, including Head Start and Early Head Start, as well as in child care programs funded with Child Care and Development Fund dollars. The report suggests two pathways to improving federal pre-K programs. The first would provide states with a percentage match of their per-child spending on low-income children enrolled in qualified pre-K programs. The second would consolidate funding streams for Head Start and other federal early learning programs, simplifying funding structures and streamlining administration of those programs.

The report has many more recommendations to offer, especially in the realm of school finance. One thing is certain, though: Between the State of the Union address and this report, early education has officially taken center stage in Washington.

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