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Education Opinion

Pre-K Bills Cheat Sheet

By Sara Mead — November 13, 2013 4 min read

After months of negotiations and rumors, Senate HELP Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Ia.), House Education and Workforce Committee Ranking Member George Miller (D-Calif.), and Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) have released proposed legislation to enact the federal-state pre-k partnership proposed by President Obama in this year’s State of the Union Address.

Here’s a quick summary of what the proposed legislation. In my next post, I’ll outline key things to look out for:


  • Establishes a program of formula-based federal grants to states to support high-quality pre-k. Eligible states will be able to use the grants to expand access to pre-k for 4-year-olds from low-income families. Up to 20% of funds can also be used for quality improvement. States that serve all low-income 4-year-olds can expand the program to serve 3-year-olds, and states may also request permission to use up to 15% of funds for infants and toddlers. In order to be eligible for a grant, a state must have established comprehensive early learning and development standards and a state early learning advisory council, have a data system or plan to develop a data system that links pre-k with elementary and secondary data, and offer state-funded kindergarten. Federal funds would require a state match, starting at 10% match of federal funds in the first year a state receives a grant, and rising to 100% by the eighth year (meaning the state and federal government would split costs 50/50).
  • Authorizes federal funding: The legislation would authorize $1.3 billion for the federal-state partnership in FY2014, $3.25 billion in FY2015, $5.75 billion in FY2016, $7.58 billion in FY2017, $8.96 billion in FY2018, and “such sums as may be necessary” through 2023. Note that these amounts are only authorizations, not appropriations. For any money to actually be made available, congress would have to appropriate it in the FY2014 appropriations (and/or subsequent years) appropriatons bills.
  • Sets standards for high-quality pre-k that include: 1) Serve children ages 3 or 4 (including children who turn 5 after the cut-off for kindergarten eligibility), 2) Teachers have bachelor’s degree with specialized training in early childhood education, 3) Maintain “evidence-based” class size and adult: child ratios; 3) Teacher salaries comparble to K-12 schools; 4) High-quality professional development for all staff; 5) Offer a full-day program; 6) Provide developmentally appropriate, evidence-based curricula and learning environments; 7) Monitoring and evaluation to support continuous improvement; 8) Comprehensive services including family engagement, nutrition, special education, and physical activity; 9) Meets education standards in Head Start Outcomes Framework; 10) Meets evidence-based health and safety standards. As part of a state application, a state must provide assurances that all pre-k programs in the state meet or will meet these standards.
  • Establishes performance measures and targets for states that receive federal pre-k funds, that include: Increasing school readiness across all domains, narrowing school readiness gaps, increasing the number of pre-k programs meeting criteria for high-quality, increasing the number of low-income children in high-qulaity programs funded by this federal program, decreasing placement of children in elementary special education programs, decreasing grade retention in elementary school, avoiding chronic absence in pre-k programs, avoiding chronic absenteeism in pre-k, and providing high-quality nutrition and obesity prevention programs.
  • Authorizes a competitive capacity-building grant program to enable states that do not meet requirements to receive formula grants to build capacity and infrastructure to support quality pre-k. This program would require a 20% state match and be authorized at $750 million in FY2014. States could receive funds for up to three years.
  • Establishes a process for Head Start programs in states or regions that achieve universal, high-quality pre-k for 4-year-olds to begin converting current Head Start slots to 3-year-old or Early Head Start slots, based on community need and with local engagement.
  • Authorizes early learning quality partnership grants to improve the quality of infant and toddler care. These grants would support Early Head Start agencies to partner with center-based and family childcare providers to improve quality of care for infants and toddlers in these settings. This program, which was also included in the administration’s FY2014 budget proposal but got less attention than the pre-k proposal, would build on an existing demonstration project involving 22 ARRA-funded Early Head Start grantees working in partnership with center-based childcare and family childcare providers. This program would be authorized at $1.4 billion for FY2014 in the House bill and $4 billion in the Senate version.
  • Amends the Child Care and Develoment Block Grant to require states to: allow children who qualify for child care subsidy to continue receiving subsidy for a full year before redetermining eligibility (this will ensure that children can remain in a childcare placement for a full-year and assist programs in blending and braiding funds to support quality preschool and childcare), allow the Secretary to reserve $100 million to support childcare quality improvement, and require states to coordinate CCBD with other federal funding programs.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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