In a media conference call today, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced a Race to the Top initiative aimed at preschool-age children.
Duncan said the goal of the $500 million Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge was to fund programs that show “courage, creativity, commitment and capacity.”
The intent is also to spread best practices in early childhood education, said Sebelius.
“It is more than teaching them colors and letters,” she said. “Children need social and emotional skills, and they need families engaged in their education. Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge takes a holistic approach to early learning, driving innovation and focusing on what it takes to put young kids on a path to learning opportunities and success.”
Both leaders talked about the dividends from investing in early childhood. The only way to outperform the world, said Sebelius, is “to out educate them.”
“We have to get out of the catch-up business, and the best way to do so is to level the playing field entering kindergarten,” said Duncan. “If we give many more children, particularly poor children, access to great childhood programs, we can dramatically change their life chances long term.”
Georgia ought to be in a great position to win one of these grants given its early entry into universal pre-k. A RTT early learning grant would increase the hand of the federal government in Georgia education, but that hand would come clutching new dollars.
Here are some details about the program:
This Challenge represents the Obama Administration’s commitment to helping vulnerable children and families reach their full potential,” said Secretary Sebelius. “Our collective health and financial security as a nation will depend on high quality investments during the critical early years of a child’s life.”
The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge will reward states that create comprehensive plans to transform early learning systems with better coordination, clearer learning standards, and meaningful workforce development. Secretary Duncan and Secretary Sebelius also challenged the broader innovation community – leading researchers, high-tech entrepreneurs, foundations, non-profits and others – to engage with the early learning community and to close the school readiness gap.
States applying for challenge grants will be encouraged to increase access to quality early learning programs for low income and disadvantaged children, design integrated and transparent systems that align their early care and education programs, bolster training and support for the early learning workforce, create robust evaluation systems to document and share effective practices and successful programs, and help parents make informed decisions about care for their children.
Research shows that high-quality early learning programs lead to long-lasting positive outcomes for children, including increased rates of high school graduation, college attendance and college completion. Yet, just 40 percent of 4-year olds in America are currently enrolled in preschool programs. The most recent report from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) indicates that, for the first time in a decade, states are reducing some of their key investments in early learning.
The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grants will encourage states to make the best possible use of current federal and state investments in child care and early learning. The Obama Administration has sought and secured increased investments in Head Start and child care so that more families have access to quality, affordable care, while also pursuing important reforms such as requiring Head Start grantees to compete for continued funding. The administration has also steered resources towards evidence-based, cost-effective home visiting programs.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog