States have until Oct. 19 to submit applications for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, a competitive grant program to prepare more children, including those from low-income families, for kindergarten. The U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services are investing $500 million in early learning. "Investing in the health and educational development of our youngest children is critical to ensuring America's long-term strength and competitiveness," says Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. "With this Early Learning Challenge, we are spurring innovation in the early education field and putting more children on a path to learning, opportunity and lifelong success."
Applicants should address all five key areas of reform: establish successful systems by building on the state's existing strengths; define high-quality programs; promote early learning and development outcomes for children; provide professional development for the early childhood education workforce; and measure outcomes and progress. "Robust research shows that young children who participate in high-quality early learning programs build a stronger foundation of social, emotional and cognitive development," says Liz Utrup, the DOE's assistant press secretary. "These children are often better prepared to enter kindergarten and more likely to demonstrate successful outcomes in later years, such as earning higher test scores, graduating from high school and attending college."
According to a study by the National Institution for Early Education Research, low-income children who attended preschool were more likely at age 20 to have finished high school and less likely to have been arrested.
The Pre-K Coalition, made up of seven education organizations, advocates for more federal government involvement and support for early education. "There is a range of activity for early child education," "Some states have made more progress than others. We want to reward states that are improving, but we also want states that aren't doing anything to step up."
Depending on state population and proposed plans, each state can earn $50 million to $100 million in grant funds. The Education and Health and Human Services departments will jointly monitor the winning states through ongoing and detailed reports to determine whether or not they are on track to achieving the performance goals and objectives included in their plans. Winners will be announced by Dec. 31. For more information, visit www.ed.gov.