Policy Resource

Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge Grants Awarded

Dec 21, 2011

A tone of excitement and encouragement filled the room at the White House event this morning, as early learning experts gathered to hear Arne Duncan and Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretaries of Education and Health and Human Services, respectively, announce the recipients of the Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge grants.

The nine winning states - California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Washington - will each receive a four-year grant to, as Secretary Duncan put it, blaze ground-breaking paths across programs and funding streams. The nine states will use funds to build comprehensive statewide systems of high-quality early learning, aimed at increasing the number of low-income or disadvantaged children, birth to five, in high-quality early childhood settings. Secretary Sebelius noted that what tied these nine states together was their “holistic approach” to early learning and development.

Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes kicked off the event, remarking that if the early years are critical to childhood development, we have to set the highest standards as we educate children from day one of their life. An encouraging sign for infants and toddlers was the recurring theme at the event about the importance of investing in an early learning system that begins long before children enter the Kindergarten - or even the preschool - classroom. This sentiment was echoed by both Secretaries, as Secretary Duncan noted that if we are serious about closing the achievement gap, nothing is more important than “getting our babies off to a good start.” For infants and toddlers, the new grants clearly are a prime opportunity to be included as an integral part of a system for quality early childhood services.

Underscoring the implications for the country’s economic future of investing in high-quality early childhood programs, Nobel Laureate James Heckman joined the Administration officials for the announcement, citing the important role of RTT-ELC as “putting in place the wisdom of solid, empirical science.” Dr. Heckman also discussed three lessons to guide approaches to early childhood development: 1. Developing the whole child; 2. Recognizing that inequalities open up early in life; and 3. Early intervention is far more effective than later remediation. His main message was that the disparity in resources available to the “haves” and “have-nots” is widening, and failure to address this early in life will result in great economic disparities in the future.

While nine states received the RTT-ELC grants, the young children in all 35 states and D.C. and Puerto Rico who applied for the grants are the real winners. Each state who applied benefitted from the process of creating plans to increase access to high-quality programs for children from low-income families, providing more children from birth to age five with the strong foundation they need for success in school and beyond. Secretary Duncan viewed all state applications as an opportunity for each state to create clarity of vision for the early learning agenda, and move this agenda from paper to action.

The event ended with an audience member from Maryland voicing her gratitude about the administration’s joint recognition that, in her words, “child care is education!”

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