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Head Start Winners Include Very Few Brand-New Providers

April 18, 2013

This guest post was written by J.M. Holland, a Head Start teacher in Richmond, Va., recent graduate of the educational leadership doctoral program at Virginia Commonwealth University, and blogger at The Future of Teaching

At the start of this month, the Office of Head Start named 160 preliminary winners in the Obama’s administration’s new “re-competition” process for determining which institutions deserve continued funding to run Head Start and Early Head Start programs. These winners were a combination of 100 providers who had already been administering Head Start and Early Head Start grants and 60 “new” providers. Of those new grantees, only a handful -- three, by my calculation -- are organizations not involved in Head Start services before.

New Details on the President’s Pre-K Plan

April 15, 2013

The release of the President’s fiscal year 2014 budget provides a clearer picture of the quality standards states would have to meet to receive funds under the Obama administration’s “Preschool for All” proposal. The most notable benchmarks are pre-K teachers with bachelor's degrees and salaries for pre-K teachers that are comparable to K-12 teachers’ wages.

Key Questions on the Obama Administration's 2014 Education Budget Request

April 11, 2013
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President Barack Obama submitted his fiscal year 2014 budget request to Congress on April 10, 2013. The New America Foundation has reviewed the president’s proposals and generated a list of key questions that policymakers, the media, stakeholder groups, and the public should ask about the proposals.

Early Learning and PreK-12 Education

1. The president’s budget proposes to partner with states to provide high-quality pre-kindergarten programs for all low- and moderate-income 4-year-olds, funded with $75.0 billion over 10 years through a 94-cent increase in the federal tobacco tax. The corresponding budget documents provide some guidance on how quality will be defined, mentioning full-day programs, small class sizes and low child-adult ratios, but they are silent on other issues. How specifically will quality be defined? Will pre-K teachers be required to earn bachelor’s degrees or demonstrate specialization in early childhood education? What about states that want to make more investments in pre-K, but cannot meet the match required by the federal government? What safeguards will be put into place to ensure that the funding would not become another siloed funding stream?  And will any guidance be issued to encourage states to – in the long-term – fund pre-K and kindergarten the same way 1st through 12th grade are funded?

2. The president’s proposal includes $300 million for the Promise Neighborhoods program, a $240 million increase over last year. Some of the program’s funds will reside under a new inter-agency header, Promise Zones, in which housing, criminal justice, education, and economic growth efforts are all deployed within a single geographical area. The number of awards will be split between planning grants and implementation. Is the administration counting on sustaining this higher level of funding for the program moving forward? Should a relatively new program bring on so many new communities, rather than focusing on deepening services for existing grantees?

3. The president proposes $300 million for new competitive grants to encourage high schools to strengthen college and career readiness by redesigning traditional programs and creating partnerships with community colleges and employers so that students graduate with college credit and career skills. How would the Department of Education identify high-quality models that are likely to improve students’ postsecondary readiness, and would certain criteria be prioritized?  Would grantees be required to match any of the funding? 

And how would the High School Redesign competition interact with similar proposals? Dual enrollment, Advanced Placement (AP), early college high schools, and other accelerated programs would be supported in the president’s proposed $102 million College Pathways and Accelerated Learning initiative. The administration would simultaneously overhaul Career and Technical Education programs within high schools that operate under the Perkins Act through a $1.1 billion budget request. And an additional $32 million would supplement Perkins funds to address local workforce needs and support adult learners by allowing them to earn high school and college credit through dual enrollment. How would the department ensure these efforts complement, rather than compete with, one another? 

4. The president’s budget request includes $659 million for a School Turnaround Grants program. This would maintain spending for state School Improvement Grants (SIG), but would also expand the program to include all priority schools under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers and add $125 million in competitive funding for districts to build capacity and maintain progress in schools nearing the end of their 3-year SIG interventions. Will the department issue guidance to encourage schools to add early learning efforts, like pre-K and full-day kindergarten, as part of school turnarounds? And what will the criteria be for districts applying for the new capacity-building grants? How will the department define successful district strategies to support persistently low-achieving schools? Districts’ lack of capacity has been one prominent criticism of the SIG program, but given that over $3 billion has been spent on SIG already, is the additional $125 million too little, too late?

5. The president proposes $215 million for the Investing in Innovation program (i3), an increase of $66 million. But nearly all of the increase ($64 million) would go toward a new program called Advanced Research Projects in Agency-Education (ARPA-ED) modeled after similar efforts in the Departments of Defense and Energy. The i3 fund provides competitive grants to school districts, nonprofits, and consortia to implement, validate, or scale up promising reform efforts. Would the i3 program continue to focus on certain reform initiatives, like teacher and leader effectiveness, or would the program shift focus to other areas, including early learning and student achievement in STEM subjects? Would ARPA-ED share the i3 focus? And how will the Obama administration ensure that ARPA-ED avoids redundancy with the Institute for Education Sciences?  

6. The president proposes to flat-fund the Assessing Achievement program at $389 million, which would replace State Assessments funding in NCLB. The Common Core assessment consortia, PARCC and SmarterBalanced, have been supported with $360 million in 2009 stimulus funds, set to expire in the fall of 2014 – before the tests are fully administered in the spring of 2015. The two consortia would be eligible to compete for an additional $9 million in funding under Assessing Achievement, while the remaining $380 million would be allocated by formula to states. Given pressure for additional assessments in PreK-3rd grade and untested subjects, technology upgrades and increased bandwidth, formative assessments, improved test security, aligned curriculum and professional development, and other supports, will states have sufficient resources to transition to the Common Core assessments while also maintaining and improving their other assessments? And is $9 million sufficient to complete and sustain the work of the Common Core assessment consortia during their first year of full implementation? What guidance will the department provide to help states and the consortia prioritize their activities heading into the critical 2014-15 school year?

Higher Education

7. The president proposes expanding the recently enacted, more generous Income-Based Repayment plan for federal student loans, Pay As You Earn, to all borrowers rather than just new borrowers as of October 1, 2007, and eliminating the tax on loans forgiven for borrowers. Last year, the New America Foundation argued for those exact policy changes – provided that Congress and the administration first address the perverse incentives and windfall benefits the program will provide to graduate and professional students and the schools that enroll them.                

If Pay As You Earn is expanded to all borrowers and loan forgiveness benefits are made tax-free, as the president is proposing, isn’t it even more important to rein in the program’s windfall benefits and perverse incentives? Does the administration have any thoughts on how to address these issues while maintaining the program’s benefits for lower-income and lower-debt borrowers?             

8. The president proposes setting interest rates on student loans at the 10-year Treasury note plus an additional 0.93, 2.93, and 3.93 percent for Subsidized and Unsubsidized Stafford and Grad PLUS loans, respectively.  The rate would adjust every year for newly issued loans based on the Treasury rate, but is fixed the life of the loan. The proposal closely mirrors one originally proposed by the Education Policy Program’s Jason Delisle.

Unlike Delisle's proposal, the interest rate in the president’s budget for Subsidized Stafford loans is lower than those for other loans. However, the Income-Based Repayment program makes the lower rate on Subsidized Stafford loans an unnecessary benefit, given that loans can always be paid as a low percentage of income regardless of the interest rate. What is the justification for the lower rate? Why provide an extra benefit for borrowers when Income-Based Repayment is available for struggling borrowers? Couldn't the budgetary resources used to provide the lower rate be put toward the Pell Grant program instead, where they are certain to help low-income students?

9. The president proposes a program that would allow non-accredited providers of learning to receive federal funding for two-year degrees that are both free to the student and high-quality, with demonstrable outcomes.  The goal of Pay for Success is to provide students with alternate pathways for high-quality, low-cost higher education.  Providers would front the costs and be reimbursed only when and if students succeed. This would allow learning acquired and/or certified through means as varied as MOOCs, work-based training, AP exams, and more to be packaged together to create a free, coherent, high-quality competency-based degree.

The budget documents indicate that demonstrated competencies, passage of field-appropriate licensing tests, and job placement are possible indicators of success. How will these indicators be determined? Will the agreed-upon indicators be transparent? How will the outcomes be verified? Will additional measures include acceptance of the two-year degrees for transfer by four-year institutions? How would this work if the “degrees” are not accredited? If students can demonstrate competencies and the outcomes are solid, what would be the justification for not accrediting these new degree programs? How would findings from this experiment on an outcomes-focused delivery model inform the broader conversation around higher education quality?

10. Providing students and families with better information in order to help them make more informed college-going choices is a recurring theme in the budget. It is highlighted as an area for state reform in the proposed $1.0 billion Race to the Top College Affordability and Completion competition and given as an example of an area to study under a $67.0 billion proposed higher education/financial aid research and evaluation program. And the president unveiled his College Scorecard in the 2013 State of the Union address to provide better, more actionable data to students in a user-friendly manner. Yet one of the main indicators on the Scorecard—employment—is essentially blank. Although the department has said that it is working to provide the information, it is not clear how or when that will occur. Given bipartisan interest in better postsecondary outcomes data, what is the department’s plan to provide accurate employment data to students? Does the president plan to make the Scorecard mandatory? If so, when? If the department wants to encourage states to provide better information, shouldn't it also lead by example?


Early Learning in the President’s 2014 Budget Request

April 10, 2013

Updated 4/10/2013 5:00 PM to reflect newly published information about the state matching portion of the Preschool for All plan.

President Obama released his fiscal year 2014 budget request earlier today, which would include $75.0 billion* over 10 years for his “Preschool for All” proposal. On top of this, the president proposes other boosts for early learning, including funding increases for Head Start, Child Care and Development Block Grants, IDEA special education programs, and the home visiting program. He also proposes budget increases to several other programs under the Department of Education that could support early learning.

Kids at Risk of Repeating a Grade? Less So in N.J.

March 29, 2013

Last week, the National Institute for Early Education Research released new data on the impact of preschool from a study of New Jersey’s state-funded pre-K program. By following children’s progress for more than six years, researchers determined that even in fifth grade, kids who had attended pre-K were still doing significantly better than their peers on a variety of academic measures. Those academic results alone make a strong case for better investments in pre-K, but let’s consider one finding that deserves special attention in debates about the cost of pre-K: The children who attended the publicly funded pre-K program were also less likely to repeat a grade.

The study showed that even by fifth grade, the chance of retention (the jargonny word for being held back or repeating a grade) was reduced by 40 percent if children had attended the state’s Abbott pre-K program.

New Federal Research Project on Building a Strong Early Ed Workforce

March 27, 2013

What knowledge and skills do teachers of young children, from preschool through third grade, need to best serve their students? Through a new, 18-month study of the pre-K-3rd teaching force, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services are working with the National Academy of Sciences, to answer this big question.

Early Learning Legislation in the 113th Congress

March 20, 2013

Building on the momentum of President Obama’s call to expand preschool access, the first months of the 113th Congress have seen the reintroduction of a number of bills addressing early education.

Doing the Math: The Cost of Publicly Funded ‘Universal’ Pre-K

March 19, 2013

The post originally appeared on our sister blog Early Ed Watch.

During the media frenzy that followed President Obama’s unprecedented call for expanding pre-K to all four-year-olds in the United States, we estimated that the additional cost to states and the federal government, combined, to be somewhere between $10-15 billion per year. We estimate that the feds and the states currently spend about $9 billion on pre-K for four-year-olds.

We wanted to explain exactly how we came to that conclusion.

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), there were approximately 4.1 million four-year olds in the U.S. as of July 2011.  But we shouldn’t assume that 100 percent of those 4.1 million children would participate. Even in states that provide pre-K to any family that wants it, such as Oklahoma and Florida, not all families choose to send their children, and currently about 75 percent are enrolled. Therefore, we predict approximately 75 percent of four-year olds would be enrolled nationally if pre-K were truly universal in all states. That means we are talking about funding pre-K for a little under 3.1 million four-year-olds around the country.

Next we determined a reasonable cost per child.  This, of course, varies by state. (Teacher pay will vary depending on supply and demand, not to mention cost-of-living in a particular area, for example.)  But we do know that the average per-pupil expenditure for children enrolled in Head Start in 2012 was $7,581 (excluding Early Head Start, which is for children under 3 and their mothers).  We also know that the Obama Administration appears to be aiming for a full-day (not a half-day) pre-K program, and that the average spending on a full day of instruction for K-12 students nationally is $12,442 per pupil, according to NIEER.  State-funded pre-K programs of decent quality cost $2,640 to $11,699, with the average at $6,408.* So we round up to $8,000.


By using this formula, we conclude that it would cost $24.6 billion per year to fund a “universal” public pre-K program for all four-year-olds. However, we estimate that states and the federal government already spend about $9.24 billion on pre-K for four-years olds.

Here’s how we got to that number, which we came to through a lot of deduction, so we want to be clear that it’s only an estimate.

States spent about $5.49 billion on state-funded pre-K programs in 2011. (Some of that includes federal funding from  TANF, according to NIEER data, so it is not purely state funding).  In 2011, The federal government spent $7 billion on Head Start (excluding Early Head Start), special-education preschool services (known as IDEA Preschool within the the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), and other sources.** Add 5.49 and 7, which is 12.49. Using NIEER data, we know that 74 percent of children enrolled in these publicly funded programs are four year olds. So we multiply .74*12.49 to get to the $9.24 billion number.


So given how much is already spent on pre-K, total new costs would be closer to $15 billion.


There are many caveats to these numbers. Three and five-year olds tend to sneak into some of these numbers on the margins. There are also other forms of funding that we may not be capturing. Lastly, simply taking the full cost of programs and multiplying them by the percentage that is four-year olds is “back-of-the-envelope.” It could cost more because there are certain fixed costs that can’t be multiplied by a percentage, or it could be less because it doesn’t account for efficiencies that are only achieved at a very large scale.

Furthermore, the numbers we are using are also closer to an ideal world of full, universal, high-quality pre-K, so we think that our estimate is on the high end. Therefore we feel comfortable estimating the additional cost to be somewhere between $10-15 billion.

What do you think about our number? Too high? Too low? Let us know.

*We define a program as “high quality” when it meets at least seven of NIEER’s ten benchmarks.

** In 2011 the federal government spent $6.3 billion on Head Start (excluding Early Head Start) and $373.4 million on IDEA 619 (preschool). We round up because some IDEA part B money probably helps fund preschool IDEA programs and there are other federal structures, such as Title I, where some of the money may go to preschool but the numbers are not broken down for us.

A Smart Preschool Debate at Fordham Institute, with One Thing Missing

March 18, 2013

Debates on preschool can sometimes devolve into misinformed squabbles over whether children can benefit and by how much. But a debate hosted last Thursday at the Fordham Institute was a refreshing exception. For 90 minutes, speakers and the audience reckoned with several important policy questions, especially on the extent to which the federal government should get involved to improve quality and access for families. The one thing missing was a serious conversation about how to build a strong, professional workforce of pre-K teachers.

Doing the Math: The Cost of Publicly Funded ‘Universal’ Pre-K

March 14, 2013

During the media frenzy that followed President Obama’s unprecedented call for expanding pre-K to all four-year-olds in the United States, we estimated that the additional cost to states and the federal government, combined, to be somewhere between $10-15 billion per year. We estimate that the feds and the states currently spend about $9 billion on pre-K for four-year-olds.

We wanted to explain exactly how we came to that conclusion.

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