NC wins $70M grant for early-childhood education
Posted December 16, 2011
WASHINGTON — North Carolina is among nine states to share $500 million in grant money won in a high profile competition intended to jump-start improvements in often-overlooked early childhood programs.
The other winners, announced Friday at the White House, are California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington.
North Carolina's application for nearly $70 million was fully funded, officials said.
The grant will allow the state to strengthen efforts to ensure that all children are able to start kindergarten with a strong foundation for future learning, according to Gov. Beverly Perdue.
The state’s grant application proposed several initiatives, including:
- Increasing the quality of early learning programs in under-served areas.
- Expanding diagnostic screening programs to ensure early intervention for health and developmental problems for children.
- Improving and expanding systems to gauge children’s progress.
- Providing incentives and resources to support and strengthen the state’s early childhood workforce.
- Providing training and assistance to help early childhood educators better engage family members in a child’s early development.
- Establishing a “Transformation Zone” in selected high-need counties in northeastern North Carolina. Counties would be eligible for focused programs designed to improve the lives of young children and families.
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan led a group of her North Carolina congressional colleagues, including Reps. Butterfield, McIntyre, Shuler, Watt and Miller, in supporting North Carolina's application in a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius in November.
“We have long understood in North Carolina that our investments in education cannot wait until kindergarten or first grade,” said Hagan, a Democrat from North Carolina and a member of the Senate committee responsible for education policy.
“This grant will allow our state to continue the remarkable progress we’ve seen through programs such as Smart Start and More at Four," Hagan added. "I am proud to have joined other members of the N.C. delegation in supporting the state's application, and I thank all of our North Carolina teachers and education leaders for their service to our students.”
The money to aid the nation's youngest learners is part of the Obama administration's cornerstone education initiative – Race to the Top – which has states competing for federal dollars to create programs that make schools more effective. Last year, it handed out $4 billion in such grants focused on K-12 education.
The goal of this competition was to get more children from birth to age 5 ready for kindergarten. Thirty-five states along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico applied for the chance each to win between about $50 million to $100 million in prize money. The winnings are to go to build state-wide systems that affect all early learning programs, including child care, Head Start centers, and public or private preschools.
Billions are spent annually in America on early education programs, but the quality and availability of those programs varies greatly. Roughly half of all 3-year-olds and about a quarter of 4-year-olds do not attend preschool, said Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.
Kids who attend quality early education programs have been shown to do better in school, and later in life, spend less time in prison and make more money. But children from low-income families who start kindergarten without any schooling are estimated to walk in the door 18 months behind their peers — a gap extremely difficult to overcome.
To win, states were asked to demonstrate a commitment to make such programs more accessible, coordinated and more effective. Providing professional development for teachers and creating ways to assess the education level of kids entering kindergarten were among the areas states were asked to focus on in their application.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius were to announce the winners at the White House. The two agencies jointly administered the competition. HHS oversees the federal Head Start program, which provides early education to nearly 1 million low-income children.
Last month, Obama announced new rules that require lower-performing Head Start programs to compete for funding. The Education Department also has proposed creating a new office to oversee the grants and better coordinate early learning programs.
Online: Education Department: http://www.ed.gov/
Department of Health and Human Services: http://www.hhs.gov/