The U.S. Department of Education has announced $226 million in funding to 34 states to increase access to high-quality preschool programs. States in our region will benefit from those federal dollars.
In the 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to expand access to preschool for every child and proposed new investments for early learning. Since then, 34 states have expanded access to pre-school. During Wednesday’s White House Summit on Early Education, new federal grant awards totaling more than $226 million were being formally announced to help 18 states build or enhance early learning infrastructure and programs. U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan is pleased with the strong bipartisan interest from governors in the program. “These states know that we must give our babies the best start possible to set them on a path to success for the rest of their lives. The evidence is overwhelming. Offering high quality early learning opportunities is one of the best ways to insure a bright future for our youth and ultimately for our country. Children who have rich early learning experiences are better equipped to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. High quality early education reduces placement in special education and it decreases grade retention. Over time it can increase the likelihood that students are prepared to read and do math at grade level, to graduate from high school and ultimately to secure a good job.”
White House Council of Economic Advisors member Betsy Stevenson agrees that investing in early education is a good strategy. She notes that the Council is releasing a detailed economic report on early childhood investment that finds lifelong benefits to the child and the overall economy. “It’s clear that investing in early childhood education is a very successful strategy and reaps large returns for every dollar that’s spent. And I think it’s also worth noting that parents have realized this. Despite the fact that parents are working more hours they’re also spending more time actively engaged in their children compared to previous generations even though they have less time to spare. And this is because parents have, and researchers have, recognized that this is a very important time for development. And when we invest in these young kids it pays a dividend that lasts for the rest of children’s lives.”
The $7.2 million award to Vermont is in addition to $37 million the state obtained last year to lay the foundation for the state’s pre-school program. This new grant allows the state to implement it. Vermont Independent U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders helped secure the funds. “At a time when working families are struggling to find quality and affordable child care this grant is a major boost for Vermont. This significant federal grant will help Vermont lead the nation in early childhood education as we better prepare our kids for school and the challenges and opportunities of life.”
In a statement, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin said, “Vermont is one of the top states in America when it comes to early childhood education... We know that investments in our youngest children pay huge dividends in their ability to achieve in school and succeed in life. We will use this $33 million directly to expand access to quality early education for Vermont children most in need.”
While Education Secretary Duncan is thrilled to see states implementing early education programs, he is also discouraged that the U.S. ranks 28th in pre-school access. “There’s so many three and four year olds who still don’t have access. So while we’re thrilled with the support from governors we really, really need Congress to step up in a bipartisan way and help take to scale what works. We have so far to go and, again relative to the rest of the world, the fact that we’re so far behind it’s a real travesty.”
Massachusetts is receiving $15 million, Connecticut gets $12 and a half million and New York will receive nearly $25 million in federal Preschool Development Grants.