Every Student Succeeds Act, Tax Extenders, and the Omnibus Appropriations Bill: How Will Children Fare?

Over the past couple of weeks, three pieces of legislation with major provisions affecting kids have passed Congress and received the President’s signature. First, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—a rewrite of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)—became law. Then, Congress and the President reached agreement on an omnibus funding bill for FY 2016 along with a tax bill that extends a number of business and individual tax expenditures.

In early December, House and Senate negotiators came to a final agreement on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which they renamed the “Every Student Succeeds Act.” The new law replaces No Child Left Behind, and moves significant authority over standards and quality systems from the federal level toward states and districts.

In another shift from NCLB, the new law also expands support for early childhood education, afterschool, and summer learning programs—key priorities for Every Child Matters—and incorporates efforts to address these areas into various programs, including community schools, Youth PROMISE plans, literacy grants, and Title I community partnerships.

The bill also authorized funding for the Preschool Development Grants program, with several key changes from previous years:

  • The program will be housed at HHS and administered jointly with the Department of Education (the 2014 and 2015 PDG programs were primarily administered by the Department of Education).
  • New program goals focus on assisting states to develop, update, or implement a strategic plan that facilitates collaboration and coordination among child care and early education programs.
  • The bill does not allow the Secretary of Education to require provisions related to quality.

We are encouraged by ESSA’s expanded emphasis on early learning, and are eager to learn more about how the redesigned PDG program will be implemented. We hope to see an even greater investment in pre-school access and quality in the coming years.

After passing the education bill, Congress turned its attention to funding the government for the 2016 fiscal year. Congress agreed earlier this fall to postpone the automatic spending cuts they called “sequestration” that would have cut many children’s programs including Head Start. In this year’s spending bill, Congress increased funding for several key programs. Among them:

  • Funding for the Child Care Development Block Grant was increased by $326 million
  • Funding for Head Start was increased by $570 million, including $135 million for Early Head Start, which provides day care, nutrition, and health services for children up to age three
  • Preschool and infant grants under IDEA increased by $35 million
  • Federal support for low-income K-12 school districts increased by $500 million
  • Funding for the Preschool Development Grants program, authorized in the ESSA, continued at $250 million

The bill represents a good first step to ending the austerity fever that led Congress to disinvest in our children’s future by several billion dollars in recent years. We hope Congress will build on these investments in future years.

Tax Extenders
Congress also passed a major tax bill that extends a handful of individual and corporate tax measures. Most importantly, the bill permanently extends improvements to two tax credits that were set to expire in 2017—credits that are essential supports for low-income families.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) do more to reduce poverty than any other federal policy. Making these two credits permanent will benefit up to 25 million American children.

Key EITC provisions made permanent:

  • Enhanced credit for families with three or more children
  • Higher phase-out range for married couples filing jointly

Key CTC provision made permanent:

  • 15% refundable credit on family earnings above $3000, up to $1000 per child (if this provision were allowed to expire in 2017, the earnings threshold would revert to $10,000, meaning that a full-time minimum wage worker with two children would not be eligible for a refund)

In addition, the bill permanently extended the American Opportunity tax credit, which helps defray college costs for low-income students and their families.

Passing the ESSA, the appropriations bill, and tax extenders were three big steps in the right direction for children. Still, we remain concerned that future Congresses and presidential administrations could reverse course. That’s why Every Child Matters will continue to challenge presidential candidates to address the issues that impact children and families.

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