A Major Investment in Helping Students Get Off on the Right Foot

“Investing in early learning is one of the smartest things we can do as a nation,” said Secretary Arne Duncan earlier this morning at a town hall meeting with US Human and Health Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to announce a new $500 million state-level Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge. Secretary Sebelius explained that “the only way America can out-compete the rest of the world is if we out-educate the rest of the world … And the only way we can do that is if every child gets a healthy start and a rich early learning experience.”

The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge rewards states that create comprehensive plans to transform early learning systems with better coordination and assessment mechanisms, clearer learning standards, and meaningful workforce development and family engagement initiatives.

Providing a strong educational foundation for our nation’s children doesn’t start on the first day of kindergarten. Research makes it clear that excellent early learning programs result in short- and long-term positive outcomes, including better high school graduation rates, higher college enrollment, and improved completion rates. Yet only 40 percent of 4-year olds are enrolled in preschool programs.

The Obama administration has been committed to improving the quality of early learning programs since day one, and the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge continues that commitment by moving the field and supporting breakthrough work that will change the quality of early learning programs across America.

Vice President Biden also noted that these programs help not only kids but whole families. “Expanding access to such early education and child care programs will also make it easier for working parents to hold down a job – a key priority of the Middle Class Task Force – giving them peace of mind that their children are in a high quality learning environment while they are at work.”

As part of this Challenge, we are inviting you to provide ideas, comments and suggestion. Please visit our Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge page and join the conversation.

Watch the entire town hall, and listen to a conference call that ED staff held with stakeholders following the announcement.


  1. “Learning standards” and “assessment mechanisms” do not improve the quality of early childhood education- far from it.

  2. From Pre-school to Pre-natal is the best term I have heard and Amen to it. The government cannot intrude to teach from birth but it can start by orienting future parents to teach from birth. Let us start doing something about that in our schools.

  3. My 30+ year career in Maternal/Child Health in the public sector continues reinforce the absolute necessity of supporting healthy children, families and communities. The jury is no longer out concerning the damaging results of Adverse Childhood Events (ACES). The P-3 movement really does need to put the P at Prenatal, not just Pre-school. By the time a child enters a preschool setting, much of the ground work has been laid for success or failure in school. The challenges faced by parents of all economic strata can been seen in the educational and societal indicators we all pay attention to. Once our country invests in primary prevention, way up stream, we will begin to ebb the tide of falling educational attainment, chronic disease rates, crime, including drug/alcohol mis-use/abuse. It will take a variety of approaches and supports for the identified best/promising practices to move the needle towards a healthy nation. I applaud this fiscal investment and hope we as a caring people, will continue to move in the direction of upstream intervention/supports.

  4. Both the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services needs to monitor and document the extent of how much taxpayer money does go toward Head Start classrooms with non-English speakers. Unfortunately, there are some centers who, while claiming they provide services to Hispanics, instead use the money for everything else but non-English speakers. In fact, they will go out of their way to deny access to non-English speakers while saying they need specific funding intended for bilingual services. Education is by teachers who are not bilingual or bicultural, using parents and inexperienced staff to evaluate and teach, rather than using certified bilingual teachers. Staff at one Head Start told me, “they did not want classes to be all Spanish,” so I was told the word “bilingual” was to be removed from my business cards, provided to me, from funding for bilingual education.

  5. It is proved from several studies that the early years are critical for the individual succes! I’m very happy hear that will be more funds to incremet early education but I always have a preocupation about only favor low income how about middle income. In my opinion are the sector who needs more support. In my 36 yrs of experience serving the low income families It is very sad to deny opportunity to a child just because their parents are working some times in two jobs to make it and for that reason their children loose the opportunity to attend a good program. Please extend the education to middle income families too.

  6. I have been a Director of the same childcare facility for working parents for over 30 years. It is certainly gratifying to know that new funding will be geared towards the care and education of the youngest members of the community. We continue to target the skills and milestones necessary for their success in public school and, more importantly, life. I would so appreciate your consideration of their working parents as you plan efficient utilization of new state and federal monies. There is so little available to them as they try to provide services for their young children while remaining employed and productive. They don’t qualify for Head Start and need facilities that operate according to the industrial rather than the public school calendar. Early care and education is expensive if quality staff are to be recruited, trained and retained, giving children and families the consistency they deserve. With additional funding provided to non-profit child care facilities for working families, parents may then be able to access these important services for their children in an equitable responsible manner. A sliding tuition scale that considers income and numbers in household will allow parents to secure the services that will allow them to remain gainfully employed or complete their education. Their children will thrive, supported by quality staff while families attend to their employment responsibilities without further burdening the community.

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