The White House released an outline of the ambitious early childhood initiative that President Obama will announce today in Decatur after a visit to a pre-k there:
The President’s proposal will improve quality and expand access to preschool, through a cost sharing partnership with all 50 states, to extend federal funds to expand high-quality public preschool to reach all low- and moderate-income 4-year olds from families at or below 200 percent of poverty.
The U.S. Department of Education will allocate dollars to states based their share of 4-year olds from low- and moderate-income families and funds would be distributed to local school districts and other partner providers to implement the program. The proposal would include an incentive for states to broaden participation in their public preschool program for additional middle-class families, which states may choose to reach and serve in a variety of ways, such as a sliding-scale arrangement.
Funds will support states as they ensure that children are enrolled in high-quality programs. In order to access federal funding, states would be required to meet quality benchmarks that are linked to better outcomes for children, which include:
•State-level standards for early learning;
•Qualified teachers for all preschool classrooms; and
•A plan to implement comprehensive data and assessment systems.
•Preschool programs across the states would meet common and consistent standards for quality across all programs, including:
•Well-trained teachers, who are paid comparably to K-12 staff;
•Small class sizes and low adult to child ratios;
•A rigorous curriculum;
•Comprehensive health and related services; and
•Effective evaluation and review of programs.
The proposal also encourages states to expand the availability of full-day kindergarten. Only 6 out of 10 of America’s kindergarten students have access to a full day of learning. In order to ensure that our kindergartners spend the time they need in school to reach rigorous benchmarks and standards, funds under this program may also be used to expand full-day kindergarten once states have provided preschool education to low- and moderate-income 4 year-olds.
Under the President’s proposal, investment in the federal Head Start program will continue to grow. The President’s plan will maintain and build on current Head Start investments, to support a greater share of infants, toddlers, and 3-year olds in America’s Head Start centers, while state preschool settings will serve a greater share of 4-year olds.
The President will also launch a new Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership program, to support states and communities that expand the availability of Early Head Start and child care providers that can meet the highest standards of quality for infants and toddlers, serving children from birth through age 3.
Funds will be awarded through Early Head Start on a competitive basis to enhance and support early learning settings; provide new, full-day, comprehensive services that meet the needs of working families; and prepare children for the transition into preschool. This strategy – combined with an expansion of publicly funded preschool education for four-year olds – will ensure a cohesive and well-aligned system of early learning for children from birth to age five.
The President is proposing to expand the Administration’s evidence-based home visiting initiative, through which states are implementing voluntary programs that provide nurses, social workers, and other professionals to meet with at-risk families in their homes and connect them to assistance that impacts a child’s health, development, and ability to learn. These programs have been critical in improving maternal and child health outcomes in the early years, leaving long-lasting, positive impacts on parenting skills; children’s cognitive, language, and social-emotional development; and school readiness. This will help ensure that our most vulnerable Americans are on track from birth, and that later educational investments rest upon a strong foundation.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog