Announcing the New Pay for Success Competition for Early Learning

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Expanding access to high quality early learning is one of the smartest investments we can make, but we should – and can – do more. Here at the U.S. Department of Education, we’re committed to helping ensure that all children are ready for kindergarten and beyond.

We should have a greater focus on evidenced-based practices, on measuring and improving outcomes for our youngest learners, and more incentives for promoting innovative approaches that promise to further improve child outcomes.

That’s why I’m pleased to announce today a new grant competition, the Preschool Pay for Success (PFS) Feasibility Pilot. This is an opportunity for state, local and Tribal governments to explore how to use Pay for Success to expand access to proven programs. It’s also a chance for them test other innovative promising approaches — all with a focus on improving outcomes for our children and society.

Through this pilot, state, local and Tribal governments can apply to secure funding for feasibility studies to determine if PFS is a viable and appropriate strategy for them.

Our intent is to incentivize and guide the early learning PFS field to explore a range of potential student outcomes and societal benefits supported by decades of early childhood research.

We also want to set safeguards for these projects to protect the rights of children with disabilities to ensure that every child who needs special education services receives them. We believe that bringing in new partners and stakeholders through PFS should help to increase the resources available for early learning and helps promote innovation and rigor. These feasibility studies will also contribute to the evidence of the value of public investment in preschool.

PFS is not a substitute for government funding, but a different way of providing government funding –one based on rigorous evidence of impact once positive outcomes have been achieved. It is not a “silver bullet” and is not the answer to every problem; however, we’re exploring PFS as a very promising part of a broader set of strategies that could stimulate funding and advance incentives for successful early childhood programs and success in other areas of need.

I’ve visited many classrooms across the country and seen how state and federal funding is helping children build a strong learning foundation before entering schools.

For example, through Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, thousands more children – particularly those with high-needs and from low-income families – are enrolled in high-quality, early learning programs. Thousands more children are receiving developmental and behavioral health screenings to help detect medical or developmental issues earlier.

And through the Preschool Development Grants over 33,000 additional children attended a high quality preschool last year and 44,000 are about to start preschool this year.

We’ve had many successes over the past seven years, but there’s always more work to do. PFS builds on the great work that’s already been done and is a promising means to an end. It’s one tool in the toolbox that warrants further exploration to improve outcomes for our most vulnerable students.

On August 22, please visit the Preschool Pay For Success (PFS) Feasibility Pilot web page for more information.

Libby Doggett is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education.