Friday, May 13, 2016

Forward Progress for Early Childhood

| by Brigitte Blom Ramsey, Executive Director |

The 2016 session of the Kentucky General Assembly proved to be an unexpected win for progress and innovation in early childhood.

Given the state’s significant state fiscal challenges, the session began with little hope for increasing the state’s investment in our youngest learners, and with a lot of questions about the continued support for the Commonwealth’s commitment to quality early childhood.

Nonetheless, early childhood advocates proposed key measures to help maintain the state’s momentum:

  • Align public preschool eligibility and child care assistance eligibility to the same Federal poverty level (FPL) and incrementally increase eligibility for both programs to 200% of FPL. Current preschool eligibility is 160% of FPL 
  • Current child care assistance eligibility is 150% of the 2011 FPL 
  • Incentivize collaboration between public preschool and private child care to increase participation in preschool and serve children in environments that best suit their needs.

In the end, the final budget approved by the Governor and General Assembly included significant progress – maintaining and increasing the state’s investment while also providing for innovations to build capacity and strengthen the system:

  • Increased child care assistance eligibility to 160% of current FPL, bringing it into alignment with the eligibility level for public preschool 
  • Maintained the full $90 million for preschool and maintained eligibility at 160% of FPL 
  • From the $90 million for preschool, carved out a set aside of $7.5 million in each year of the biennium to establish an incentive grant for local collaborations between school districts and private child care providers to increase participation in preschool. Statewide, enrollment has dropped significantly since 2010.

Source: Kentucky Department of Education Staff Note, June 2015

We are thrilled to see the incentive grant program for early childhood partnerships in the budget. This is a testament to the state’s commitment to innovation and partnership in early childhood. It will be important for Kentucky to make the most of this unique opportunity by building evidence of success by serving more young learners, increasing school readiness, and improving efficiency of programs.

The budget language calls on the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) to administer the incentive grant program. It requires KDE to work with the Kentucky Board of Education, Early Childhood Advisory Council, Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and Child Care Advisory Council to design the program requirements. The next few months will be a pivotal time for these state agencies and advisory groups, as well as for school districts and child care providers to identify ways that they can partner to better serve young learners in full-day programs.

Why is it so important for school districts and child care providers to work together?

  • Increasing access to quality preschool programs helps increase kindergarten readiness and early success in school.
  • Public preschool should be increased in a way that does not crowd out private child care.
  • Public-private partnerships bring diversity into the system that helps build the state’s capacity to serve more children with high-quality services that meet families’ needs.
  • Partnerships between the public and private sectors encourage efficient and effective use of resources.

The idea of partnerships is not new in Kentucky.

  • In April 2015, in partnership with Metro United Way, United Way of Greater Cincinnati, Kentucky Youth Advocates Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children, the Kentucky Head Start Association, the Kentucky Department of Education, the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services Stars for Kids Now, we released a brief that detailed the benefits of partnerships and examples of models underway now in Kentucky.
  • In January 2016, the Early Childhood Study Group report recommended partnerships as a way to strengthen school readiness and ensure a stronger system for children from birth through third grade.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions, comments, or ideas about effective partnerships between school districts and child care providers. We will continue to keep you informed as we learn more about this unique opportunity for Kentucky’s young learners.

Monday, May 9, 2016

ESSA Update: The Details Matter for Equity

| by Cory Curl, Associate Executive Director |

As we discussed here late last year, the U.S. Congress approved a new version of the federal Elementary and Secondary Act. This version, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), gives states some more leeway in how they design their K-12 school and district accountability systems.

This move at the federal level gives us an opportunity to do what we do so well in Kentucky. We have a long history of working together to set clear, meaningful goals for student and school success. We then come together around a set of shared measures to show how schools and districts are – or are not – making progress toward these goals.

To that end, the Kentucky Department of Education has just concluded a series of 11 town hall meetings across the Commonwealth. At the town hall meetings, Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt and Associate Commissioner Rhonda Sims shared information about ESSA and listened to educators, parents, and students about how they define student and school success. Videos and summaries of these meetings are available online, along with comments that have been submitted via email.

The next few months will be an important time for Kentuckians to continue engaging in these conversations. Everyone has a seat at the table to contribute to the process of setting these goals and measures, which will have so much influence on the priorities that schools and districts set for years to come.

As the process unfolds, it will be critical to make sure that the goals and measures give schools and districts a big push to prioritize equity, making sure that every child gets what he or she needs to be successful in their next steps. This is the only way that Kentucky will be able to close the achievement gaps that have persisted for so long.

ESSA will help us on this front. While it gives states more flexibility in how they design their systems, it includes several requirements intended to ensure that equity is a priority for schools and districts.

To keep you informed on ESSA’s requirements and flexibilities, we are partnering with The Education Trust, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for high academic achievement for all students, particularly students of color and students in poverty. We have developed a series of fact sheets, below, to translate what’s in the federal law to what it means for us here in Kentucky.

The Every Student Succeeds Act: What’s In It? What Does it Mean for Equity?
Public Reporting

Update: View our May 12th Community Conversations webinar with The Education Trust