Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge

Yesterday Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced the release of the application for the Administration’s new Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge. The Challenge is committing $500 million to help states build statewide early learning systems and improve early learning programs. It’s a critical investment in an area that hasn’t gotten enough attention. The Middle Class Task Force has focused on child care because we know that it’s an issue families struggle with every day. With most families dependent on two incomes to get by, families just can’t afford not to have access to child care. But just any child care won’t and shouldn’t do. Parents want and deserve the peace of mind that their children are safe and receiving the high-quality education they need when they drop them off at day care.

For too long parents haven’t been able to make informed decisions about child care because there has been no way to compare the quality of one child care provider to that of another. This program will help change that, incenting states to build statewide tiered quality rating and improvement systems to rate providers and improve early learning programs. Improving programs will require more resources and professional support for early childhood educators. This critical workforce, made up disproportionately of women, works hard to take care of our nation’s youngest, but just doesn’t get the resources they need to be successful.  The competition calls on states to provide these educators with appropriate compensation, professional development, career advancement opportunities, and a common set of standards for workforce knowledge and competencies so all educators know what they need to do and have the resources to be successful. 

Here is more information from the Department of Education blog:

“Successful early learning programs are not just about education but about the whole child – including their physical and emotional health,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on a conference call this afternoon with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to announce the Obama Administration’s release of the final application for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC).

The two Departments have worked together over the last four months in an unprecedented effort.  Nearly 350 organizations and individuals provided comments to the draft criteria put out in early July.

RTT-ELC will provide $500 million in state-level competitive grants to improve early learning and development programs with States getting about $50 to $100 million. The goal of the Challenge is to ensure more children with high-needs from birth to age five—including those from low-income families—enter kindergarten ready to succeed.

“Brain scientists tell us that the early years are when critical cognitive development takes place. Social scientists tell us that the investments we make in early childhood programs can have a huge payoff down the road,” said Secretary Sebelius.

States chosen for the RTT-ELC will need to demonstrate a commitment to improving their early learning and development programs as well as adopt common standards within the State that will help determine what young children should know and be able to do, as well as define program quality.

States awarded funds under RTT-ELC will also implement appropriate assessments to help monitor students’ progress to inform practice and improve program quality. Secretary Duncan explained that “we are not asking three year olds to take bubble tests.” Just as good early childhood educators are doing now, we are asking that early childhood educators have the observation and documentation skills they need to evaluate a child’s progress along a set of appropriate early learning and development standards.

Read the press release of today’s announcement, and click here to learn more about the RTT-ELC and to view the application.

Maureen Tracey-Mooney is Senior Policy Analyst for the Office of the Vice President.

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