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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Photo: Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Photo: Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education

Last week, federal officials announced that applications are available for a new $250 million Preschool Development Grants competition, funding that will help states start new high-quality preschool programs or expand existing ones.

Jointly administered by the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, the program is meant to help close the opportunity gap for the nation’s youngest children.

“Preschool Development Grants are not intended to simply add more seats to just any existing state-level program; there is a strong focus on program quality,” Ed Central, a New America Foundation blog, explains.

And as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a Department of Education press release, “This new grant competition will prepare states to participate in President Obama’s proposed Preschool for All program — a federal-state partnership that would promote access to full-day kindergarten and encourage the expansion of high-quality preschool programs for 4-year-olds from low- and middle-income families.” (more…)

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“We can now make the audacious claim that Detroit is poised to become a city regarded as home to a model of early childhood education excellence.

“We can’t blame anyone for being skeptical. Headlines claim early intervention programs don’t produce lasting effects, and that nothing has changed in Detroit.

“But a new spirit of cooperation is emerging. People working together across sectors, organizations and neighborhoods is becoming the new business as usual. Replacing what was unsustainable and ineffective are new collaborative models that are breaking the cycle of poverty and ensuring children receive necessary support to achieve success. A pooling of resources from federal, state and local initiatives will help establish Detroit as a model of early intervention success.”

“Detroit Can Model Early Childhood Success,” a guest column in the Detroit Free Press about the Birth-to-Five pilot for Head Start and Early Head Start services, written by Robert Shaw, CEO of Development Centers; William Jones, CEO of Focus: HOPE; John Van Camp, CEO of Southwest Solutions; and Ann Kalass, CEO of Starfish Family Services, July 29, 2014

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Parents know that early education and child care are expensive. But for a refresher on just how expensive, the Boston Globe recently featured a 50-state map of child care costs across the nation. As the Globe explains, Massachusetts is among the least affordable states with an annual cost of $12,176 for 4-year-olds and $16,430 for infants. Compared to “the state median income for married couples, Massachusetts is the fourth least-affordable state for center-based infant care in the country.”

A recent report from Child Care Aware of America, the data source for the Globe’s map, explains just how high these costs are across the country.

“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers 10 percent of family income for child care as a benchmark for affordable care,” according to Child Care Aware’s “Parents and the High Cost of Child Care 2013 Report.” (more…)

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Graphic Courtesy of the First Five Years Fund

Graphic Courtesy of the First Five Years Fund

Last week, the First Five Years Fund (FFYF) released findings from its latest national public opinion poll on investing in young children. The result: widespread, bipartisan support for early childhood education.

“Seventy-one percent of voters — including 60 percent of Republicans — support greater investment in early childhood education if it increased the deficit in the short-term, but paid for itself in the long-term by improving children’s education, health, and economic situations so that less spending is needed in the future,” according to a fact sheet that explains the poll results. (more…)

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Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

“Early education is in the spotlight like never before… yet real progress is elusive,” according to a report being released today by the New America Foundation called: “Beyond Subprime Learning: Accelerating Progress in Early Education.”

“President Barack Obama has repeatedly called for increased investments in child care, pre-K, home visiting, and other programs,” the report says. “Thirty-five states entered the federal Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grants competition, which has so far invested about $1 billion in 20 states’ infrastructure. A long-overdue reauthorization bill for the Child Care and Development Block Grant overwhelmingly passed the Senate this year, with potential in the House.”

In addition, the report notes that philanthropies, governors, and state legislatures increasingly recognize the importance of investing in children.

Nonetheless, the report says, achievement gaps have widened. There aren’t enough seamless transitions from pre-K to grade school. Too many low income children aren’t getting the support they need. And Congress isn’t providing stable funding. (more…)

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“By giving more of our kids access to high-quality preschool and other early learning programs — and by helping parents get the tools they need to help their kids succeed — we can give those kids a better shot at the career they are capable of and the life that will make us all better off.

“This is one of my top priorities and I want to thank the growing coalition of researchers, nonprofits, and foundations who have made it one of theirs.”

President Barack Obama in a Too Small to Fail video posted on June 25, 2014

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Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

The interesting thing about Liz Belsito’s favorite children’s book — “Whose Mouse Are You?” by Robert Kraus, which her parents read to her when she was young – is that the book’s theme of family engagement echoes a key theme in Belsito’s career.

“I’ve always tended to wear the family support hat,” Belsito said of her work, in a recent interview. A college graduate of UMass Amherst with an MSW from SUNY Albany, Belsito said that within social work she focused on public policy.

Today, Belsito is the Race to the Top Project Director at the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC). She oversees the efforts funded by the $50 million, federal Race to the Top — Early Learning Challenge grant that Massachusetts was awarded in 2011. EEC has used the grant to build on the earlier work Massachusetts has done to build a high-quality and responsive system of early education and care.

Now that there are 18 months left in this four-year grant, we asked Belsito to tell us about recent and upcoming Race to the Top efforts. (more…)

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“Today, we worry both about achievement gaps and opportunity gaps. Because we haven’t provided access to high-quality early learning to all families, millions of children enter kindergarten already behind their peers at the starting line of school. That is profoundly unfair.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in his speech “Sixty Years After Brown: Where is the Outrage?” at the Education Writers Association Annual Conference, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., May 20, 2014

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Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

A new report, “Building a Foundation for Success,” looks at the unmet preschool needs of children in the commonwealth — and proposes three ways that Massachusetts might expand its preschool programs to create more access.

Released by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (MassBudget), a nonprofit research organization, the report examines the number of preschool-age children in Massachusetts and the public funding streams that support their enrollment. The report costs out “a range of options for expanding and improving early education and care for these 3- and 4-year-olds in Massachusetts.” The options proposed range in cost from $153 million to $606 million in increased annual state funding on top of what is currently being spent. This increased state funding would be bolstered by non-state sources such as sliding scale parent fees or local education funding, depending on the model used.

“Right now we have a very fragmented system and that leaves many kids without access to any early education at all,” Noah Berger, MassBudget’s president, told the Boston Globe. However, Berger added that there was a growing consensus that a wide expansion of early education options was good for children and for the economy.

Carolyn Lyons, Strategies for Children president and CEO, is encouraged by the report. “This new report by MassBudget builds upon ongoing state and local policy conversations across the commonwealth on how to pay for and structure high-quality universal pre-k. Research shows that high-quality early education has (more…)

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Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Last month, President Obama launched “My Brother’s Keeper,” a promising, new initiative to help “every boy and young man of color who is willing to do the hard work to get ahead.”

As part of his announcement for the initiative, the president highlighted early learning, touching on research on the early vocabulary gap, kindergarten readiness, and third grade reading proficiency.

For Obama, the initiative is personal. At the event launching the initiative, the president talked about growing up without a father and about his own poor choices, including drug use and taking school less seriously than he could have.

“The only difference is that I grew up in an environment that was a little more forgiving,” the president said. He had the support of his mother and grandparents as well as encouragement from a community that gave him second and third chances. “They never gave up on me. And so I didn’t give up on myself.”

Joining the president is a group of foundations that have united to support the new initiative. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, Bloomberg Philanthropies, The California Endowment, the Ford Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kapor Center for Social Impact, the Open Society Foundations, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation — have made a $150 million commitment to “My Brother’s Keeper,” and they will be working over the next three months to design a strategy and infrastructure for these investments. (more…)

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