by Angela Chagnon
Senator Bernie Sanders is lauding one of his bills on his website that proposes to create state early education systems, or state-run Pre-K, using Federal grants.
Introduced in February, S.294, titled “Foundations for Success Act of 2011”, cites several studies ranging from the effect of poverty on children to the rate of incarceration for school drop-outs and concludes:
“It is the Government’s moral, ethical, and fiscal responsibility to offer the option to parents of a high quality early care and education program for their young children that promotes self-development, academic achievement, and active engagement in learning for all children.” (p. 8)
Sanders’ bill outlines the purpose of the Act as “to provide grants, on a competitive basis, to States to enable such States to establish a State Early Care and Education System, which will provide all children in the State, ages 6 weeks to kindergarten, with access to a full-time, high quality, developmentally appropriate, early care and education program” to “support the needs of working families” and “ensure that all children are prepared to enter kindergarten ready to learn and reach their maximum potential.” (pp. 9-10)
Participants in the Pre-K program must “operate in partnership with community-based health organizations” to make referrals for annual vision, dental, hearing, and “other health care screenings” including immunizations and mental health services (pp. 28-29). Family support services such as parenting and child development classes, job placement, substance abuse and literacy programs must also be made available through the Pre-K program.
States that receive notice of a Pre-K grant award must offer “full-day and full-week kindergarten” in every school district within one year of the notice (p. 13). They also must establish a “State Early Childhood Advisory Council” that will act as a regulatory committee to oversee the new education system (p. 12).
Another system that the Act requires to be put in place is a “P20 data system” that will include data on children from birth through kindergarten who are participating in the State Early Care and Education System, for the purpose of creating a longitudinal data system for individual participant tracking” (p. 13).
The entity that will oversee the collection and reporting of this data will be a “Center for Evaluation Support, Analysis, and Reporting” (p. 40).
Strangely, the bill doesn’t require a “funding plan for program sustainability” until the 8th year of implementation. The state will need to file a report that includes a “plan for leveraging Federal, State, and local tax revenue from child care, preschool, and health and nutrition programs, as well as private funds to carry out activities described in this Act” (p. 20).
Pages 33 and 34 outline the future education requirements for “lead teachers”, or instructors who design “learning activities and assessments” that are consistent with the program’s requirements, and other early childcare providers.
Within 8 years of the program’s start, all lead teachers and “50% of program directors…will have a bachelor’s degree in child development, early childhood education, or a related field determined by the designated entity”. 75% of other teachers and instructors “will have, at a minimum, a Child Development Associate credential.”
The initial Federal grant for the program will pay to set up a Pre-K system and support it for 10 years. After that, if the program is proven successful according to a statewide “Quality Rating and Improvement System” criteria that has yet to be determined, “the Secretaries shall continue to support the program with funds appropriated under this Act, without fiscal year limitations” (p. 36).