We reported last week on the Early Learning Challenge fund, a historic bill currently awaiting passage in the House that is intended to increase funding for pre-k across the country. As proposed, the legislation gives preference to states that have already begun to develop infrastructure for high quality pre-k and aims to increase participation among disadvantaged children. In a conference call hosted by a whole passel of non-profit organizations including NWLC, CLASP, NAEYC, AFSCME, First Five Years Fund, Early Care and Education Consortium, Zero to Three, National Head Start Association, NACCRRA and NAFCC, Dr. Ruth Friedman, Senior Education Policy Advisor, House Committee on Education and Labor, highlighted some of the juicy parts of the bill. You can listen to the call here.
The grant competition will give preference to states that have made progress on eight focus areas and demonstrate the capacity to continue making progress in these areas. These include:
· Reforming early learning standards
· Implementing evidence-based program quality standards
· Enhancing program review and monitoring program quality
· Providing comprehensive professional development
· Coordinating systems for facilitating screenings for disability, health, and mental health needs
· Improving support to parents
· Creating a process for assessing children’s school readiness
· Using data to improve child outcomes
Although the bill doesn't describe how states should ensure high quality pre-k for all three and four year olds, it does seem to hint that quality rating systems are a reliable way of showing a states' capacity to provide high quality services. Currently, 18 states have implemented Quality Rating Systems including: Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Vermont. Many other states are close behind, developing or piloting Quality Rating Systems this year.
States who receive a “challenge grant” will be required to maintain their financial commitment to early education at the same funding level as was allocated in 2006. One key aspect of the bill is its focus on increasing quality across the board when it comes to pre-k programs. As Dr. Friedman explained, "We strongly feel that all providers of early learning need to be touched by this bill in one way or the other." The grant process also requires a collaborative approach. Pre-K now hosted a national conference in December that discussed communities' pre-k collaboration around the country. To learn more about how stakeholders in your state can collaborate around providing high quality preschool watch the conference video.
The Early Learning Challenge Fund is meant to support community collaboration and inclusive approaches to build programmatic quality. State quality systems must include family child care, center based care, Head Start and state pre-k. Friedman stressed the importance of “everyone being part of the system."