Today, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius highlighted the Obama Administration's blueprint to improve and strengthen early learning programs, and announced their support for efforts in Congress to answer the President's challenge to invest $10 billion in the Administration's early learning reforms. The proposed Early Learning Challenge Fund will advance a standards and outcomes-driven framework to improve the quality of early childhood programs across the country.
In March, as President Obama announced his agenda for improving educational outcomes from cradle through career, he challenged states to develop a cutting-edge plan to raise the quality of their early learning programs: "Show us how you'll work to ensure that children are better prepared for success by the time they enter kindergarten. If you do, we will support you with an Early Learning Challenge Grant that I call on Congress to enact."
Legislation reflecting the President's plan was introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this week by Congressman George Miller, the Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. The Senate is expected to consider its version of the bill following the August recess.
Reacting to today's announcement by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan, President Obama said, "With this unprecedented investment and challenge, we will significantly raise the bar in our nation's early learning programs. Thanks to the extraordinary leadership and collaboration between the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, we're taking exciting new steps to ensure the educational success of a new generation of America's children."
During remarks to education and health care stakeholders, Secretary Duncan said, "We need to challenge ourselves to do better for kids. We know that the years prior to kindergarten are critical in shaping how children learn and succeed in school. The President's Early Learning Challenge Fund will undoubtedly be a major step forward."
"We know how important early childhood is to long-term health and successful development" Secretary Sebelius said. "The Early Learning Challenge Fund reinforces the President's commitment to improve the quality of early childhood programs across the country and ensure more children get the care and education they need. Giving our children a strong start in life is one of the best investments we can make in America's future."
The President's Early Learning Challenge Fund would create a unique and unprecedented collaboration between the U.S. Department of Education and the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and would incorporate two key funding elements:
Quality Pathways Grants, as awards to high-capacity States pursuing models of reform and excellence in early learning. Innovative plans would already reflect significant progress toward establishing the elements of a comprehensive, high quality early learning system needed to improve quality and learning outcomes for children, and a desire to take such improvements to scale.
Development Grants, as awards to a population of developing states that show promise for strengthening and expanding their early learning system, but who need additional assistance to launch a standards-based, outcomes-driven system.
The proposed Fund will encourage states to set a high standard of quality across all of their early learning programs, ensure that a greater number of children participate in high-quality programs, and deliver the training and support needed to ensure that more children are prepared with the cognitive, social, and emotional skills necessary for kindergarten success.