Leveraging Federal Dollars to Build Early Childhood Systems

Blog Post
Dec. 15, 2021

In response to the increased needs of families, children, and educators across the country, public education has experienced a significant influx of federal funding throughout the pandemic. In addition to funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and the support from schools and communities, leaders building birth-to-third grade systems should know of the flexibility of the federal programs already in place.

Our Toolkit for Effective and SupportiveTransitions was created for decision makers to plan for healthy and supportive birth-to-third grade systems for our youngest learners, especially as the challenges of recovering from the pandemic remain. As we describe in the toolkit, there are a multitude of policy solutions that can be leveraged using federal funding.

  • Because so many children were not in the classroom during the pandemic, teachers have quickly noticed a significant decline in readiness both academically and in behavior. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Elementary And Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), Head Start, and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) all provide the opportunity for joint professional development on aligning routines and expectations for pre-K, kindergarten, and early elementary teachers.
  • Pre-K educators who have worked to support children throughout the pandemic are still striving to find the best ways to transition their students to kindergarten. ESSA, Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five (PDG B-5), Head Start, CCDBG, and ESSER allow states and localities to gather information on effective practices and showcase model classrooms as examples for teachers across the state.
  • Program and school leaders continue to face the challenge of the unknown. Building data sharing systems across early childhood and elementary school settings will bolster educators’ abilities to support our youngest students. These systems can be funded through PDG B-5, Head Start, and ESSA Title I.
  • To begin the work of transition planning across the state and in communities, establishing grant programs for districts to develop plans creates an accessible starting point. ESSA Titles I and II, CCDBG, and state pre-k dollars support this work, encouraging equity in alignment planning and activities.
  • ESSA can support a wide range of professional development for teachers and staff. States and localities can use this funding to develop professional learning modules for educators, with an emphasis on trauma-informed teaching, equity concerns, implicit bias, and effective and authentic family engagement practices.
  • Everyone working with children in the birth-to-third space has put every ounce of energy into serving their students throughout the pandemic. Leaders can use this as a time to organize and connect Head Start programs, program administrators, principals, and early elementary teachers to make these efforts strategic. ESSA provides the platform for gathering this team and leveraging a two-way learning opportunity.

These federal funding programs can be adaptable and responsive to specific needs of state and local early childhood systems and transitions.

  • Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): Through grants administered through Titles I, II, and III, both SEAs and LEAs can use funding to reach children and families farthest from opportunity, bringing them in to child care and pre-K programs and transitioning them to Kindergarten. ESSA funds can be used to build quality within existing programs through a range of support options such as a home visiting and accessible communication with families who speak a language other than English.
    • Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER): Districts and schools have been tasked with using this tranche of federal funding to address the impacts of learning loss. Administered through the same funding formula as Title I, Part A, many districts are choosing to apply them to expanded summer programs, high-dosage tutoring, and revamped curriculum.
  • Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG): CCDBG provides subsidies for families for child care services and makes investments in the quality of birth-to-five services, including transitions.
  • Head Start: Head Start programs use federal funds to promote school readiness for children from low-income families, including strategies around family engagement and transportation. Mandated coordination with LEAs around data reporting and sharing, alignment of instruction, and transitions planning can be assisted throughout a well-developed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Guidance for these MOUs can be found here.
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Funding through IDEA is focused on state and local protection of children with disabilities. The law requires a focus on students’ transition between pre-K and early elementary, and leaders should use the lessons learned from this planning to bolster transitions systems for children with disabilities.
  • Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV): Home visiting through MIECHV is an evidence-based approach for reaching families who face barriers to accessible child care, pre-K, and transitions to Kindergarten.
  • McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act: This section of ESSA provides the means for early childhood educators to reach children experiencing homelessness. It requires that LEAs work with local social service agencies to ensure students have access to registering for school and staying in the original school.

As leaders and educators reflect on both the successes and challenges of this fall, it’s important to think strategically about how to use federal funding streams to best support their youngest learners. Those that work to build birth-to-third systems must consider the needs of their community and apply the flexibility of these federal programs to build their holistic support networks.

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Danielle is no longer with EducationCounsel and her work on this blog predated her departure.

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