Only one in three four-year-olds attend a high-quality preschool program — and the number for three-year-olds is much lower. Across the country, children remain on long preschool waiting lists, and families who could benefit from support as they raise their children remain unserved.
Today, six states learned that they will have vital new support to build systems that help to solve that problem. Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) funding was awarded to Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont. These states join 14 others that have received RTT-ELC grants and are building their capacity to serve preschool children with quality, accountability, and efficiency.
These new awards bring the Obama Administration’s education funding commitment in early learning systems building to more than $1 billion. With that investment and their own state funds, a bipartisan group of forward-looking governors have worked to increase support for high-quality early learning in their states.
President Obama has put forward a plan, called Preschool for All, that would make high-quality preschool available and affordable for all families, without adding a dime to the deficit. Last month, a bipartisan group in Congress introduced bills to support high-quality preschool services for low- and moderate-income families.
And, many states, and cities, are building new organizational structures, aligning systems, eliminating redundant programs, and raising the bar for teacher preparation. A recent report from the Education Commission of the States documents 38 bills from 25 states that establish state preschool programs; implement quality rating and improvement systems; pilot a school readiness assessment, and more.
In Michigan — one of the new RTT-ELC states — leaders realized that a robust investment in early learning is the best way to rebuild the state’s economy. Led by Gov. Rick Snyder (R-Mich.), the state legislature voted to invest $60 million more next year on preschool programs. This funding increase of nearly 60 percent will add up to 16,000 more four-year-olds to state-funded preschool next year.
Ultimately, RTT-ELC is only a down payment on early learning – strong systems are not enough. High-quality early learning programs fail to reach the majority of America’s youngest learners – due to a state’s limited capacity, lack of resources, or both. Much more needs to be done.
We have to quit “playing catch-up, and level the playing field for our children before they start kindergarten,” as Secretary Duncan recently said at a global education summit. As business and military leaders, law enforcement officials and educators have repeatedly said, high-quality preschool is the right move to make sure our youngest children are ready for the world ahead of them.
Libby Doggett is the deputy assistant secretary for policy and early learning at the U.S. Department of Education. Linda Smith is the deputy assistant secretary and inter-departmental liaison for early childhood development at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.