Federal Update: Congress Debates Early Ed in K-12 Legislation, But Could Go Even Further


Congress is once again debating an overhaul of the nation’s overarching K-12 law, and the latest plan would improve early education, though those steps would be relatively small compared to initiatives in state capitols around the country.


This week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee is debating a bill that would revamp the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and it reflects a modest shift towards a P-12 system. Perhaps the most interesting of these changes would allow school districts to tap federal funds (Title II) to train early educators, which would strengthen connections between pre-kindergarten and K-3, EdCentral reports.


It’s great to see early education in what has been traditionally K-12 territory, but the legislation’s ambition in that area is limited, something Washington’s Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, co-author of the measure, recognizes.

“I’m glad that our deal clarifies that funding for various programs can be used for early education. But I don’t think the Chairman’s mark goes far enough. So I also plan to offer a bipartisan amendment to provide grants to states to build on the programs that already exist. This amendment will allow states to better coordinate their early learning programs, increase quality of these programs, and ensure that more children have access to them,” Sen. Murray, ranking Democrat on the committee, said in a statement.

Stay tuned because the committee is poised to take up Sen. Murray’s amendment as early as today. Overall, the legislation is not expected to become law this year, but even failed legislative efforts often set the stage for progress in future congressional sessions. (Follow developments over at New America Foundation’s EdCentral.)


And the legislation clearly would help early education. Anyone who has seen early learning and elementary teachers training together knows how powerful that collaboration can be. Together, teachers talk about kindergarten transitions, what skills are being taught in pre-k and what skills could be taught to improve transitions.


It also would be a step toward a true P-12 system, and higher-quality early learning. Let’s hope Congress takes cues from state leaders on both sides of the aisle, including those in Washington who are successfully moving the Early Start Act this year with strong bipartisan support, to go even farther.


It’s also important to recognize that Congress made important progress on home visiting and health care for children this week:



Let’s keep building the momentum.