Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Challenge Grants to Bolster State Early Learning Systems

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Challenge Grants to Bolster State Early Learning Systems

Article excerpt

Last week, the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services announced the dedication of $500 million in Race to the Top funding to support comprehensive state plans for raising the quality of early learning programs, a step that could open new opportunities for cities working in this important area.

The new, competitive Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant program will reward states that:

* Create comprehensive plans to increase access to high quality early learning programs for low-income and disadvantaged children;

* Design integrated and transparent systems that align early care and education programs;

* Strengthen training and support for the early learning workforce;

* Create efficient evaluation systems that document and share effective practices and successful programs; and

* Help parents make informed decisions about care for their children.

Opportunity for Cities

In recent years, municipal officials have taken an increasingly active role in strengthening early care and education programs in their communities. Cities are connecting first-time parents to information and community resources, promoting early literacy through Mayor's Book Clubs, advancing family-friendly workplace policies and offering training to family, friend and neighbor caregivers.

Local efforts have been motivated by research that highlights the importance of early learning to future academic and career success and traces the academic achievement gap to early childhood.

"For kids, high-quality early learning programs mean they will enter school better prepared with a greater chance of finishing high school and college," said Vice President Joe Biden.

The Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge presents cities with an opportunity to enhance local efforts by partnering with state agencies and early childhood advisory councils on challenge grant applications. …

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