The U.S. Department of Education has released a report (Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge) showing that states are rapidly improving the quality of early learning programs while enrolling more children, especially from low- and moderate income families, in the highest-quality programs.
What’s more, thousands more children are receiving health screenings to help detect medical or developmental issues earlier, the report shows. The report comes from the annual performance reviews for the 20 states who have received more than $1 billion in Early Learning Challenge grants since 2011. These reports capture the successes achieved and obstacles overcome by states in the last year.
“By investing in high-quality early learning through programs like the Early Learning Challenge, states are giving many more children a strong start in life,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “Thanks to the leadership of governors, state officials and education advocates, these states are implementing plans to develop high-quality early learning systems that improve the quality of learning and provide our youngest citizens with the strong foundation they need for success in school and beyond.”
The Early Learning Challenge is a historic federal investment that supports states in building strong systems of early learning and development to ensure that underserved children – including low-income and minority students, as well as students with disabilities and English learners – and their families have equitable access to high-quality programs.
Highlights from the reports:
- More than 72,000 early learning and development programs are now evaluated under their states’ Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (TQRIS) – an 87 percent increase since the states applied for their grants.
- Nearly 14,000 programs are in the highest quality tiers of their states’ rating system – a 63 percent increase since the states applied for their grants.
- Significantly more children with high needs are enrolled in programs in the highest quality tiers of their states’ rating system.
- More than 200,000 children with high needs are enrolled in highest rated state-funded preschool programs.
- Nearly 230,000 children with high needs are enrolled in child care programs that receive federal child care subsidy funds and are in the highest tiers.
- More than 150,000 children with high needs are enrolled in Head Start/Early Head Start programs in the highest tiers.
“The Early Learning Challenge, an education reform initiative announced by President Obama in 2009, has been a catalyst for advancing state-led efforts to improve education. When we invest in early education, the benefits can last a lifetime,” HHS Administration for Children and Families Acting Assistant Secretary Mark Greenberg said. “Children who attend high-quality early learning and preschool programs are more likely to do well in school. We all gain when our country has strong early childhood systems in place to support our children on the path to opportunity.”
Duncan discussed the report at the annual grantee meeting in Virginia for the 32 states implementing the Early Learning Challenge, as well as Preschool Development Grants. Launched in 2011 as a historic joint initiative of the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, the Early Learning Challenge now has 20 states participating: California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington state, and Wisconsin. These grantees are working to align, coordinate and improve the quality of existing early learning programs across multiple funding streams that support children from birth through age five.
Duncan also spoke about the Preschool Development Grants, a program jointly administered by both Departments. In 2014, 35 states and Puerto Rico applied for the Preschool Development Grants, jointly administered by the Departments, to expand high-quality preschool for children from low- to moderate-income families. Due to the limited funding, awards were made only to 18 states in over 200 high-need communities that span the geographic and political spectrum. Despite the evidence showing the importance of early learning and the unmet need for preschool in America, earlier this summer, House and Senate committees authored partisan spending bills that make significant cuts to programs that provide important services such as health care, public health and safety, job training, and education. Both bills eliminate Preschool Development Grants, jeopardizing critical early education opportunities for more than 100,000 children in the last two years of the grants.
This Early Learning Challenge report provides a high level overview of the progress made by Early Learning Challenge states in key areas as they implement their state plans. For more detailed information, see the individual state annual performance reports and highlights available here.