Two announcements this week may put the Obama administration back in the good graces of the early childhood advocate community, which has been worried lately that some campaign promises might be forgotten or postponed amid all the budget woes this year.
First, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced yesterday that they are creating a new taskforce to coordinate the efforts of their two departments around early childhood issues. The effort is intended to get the two agencies which run the various programs aimed at the birth to five set working together on a shared mission – a rather obvious, if elusive goal.
Second, and perhaps even more exciting to folks in the early ed world, is the possible revival of the Early Learning Challenge Fund. Duncan mentioned the fund yesterday in his speech, noting that a Senate committee has proposed putting $300 million toward the fund. The House has not made a similar proposal, but that doesn’t mean they won’t.
Here are some excerpts from Duncan’s speech, which was given at an early childhood summit meeting in D.C. yesterday morning:
On the new interagency task force:
“Secretary Sebelius and I have agreed to form an Early Learning Interagency Policy Board, convening senior staff from the major early learning programs in both departments, in support of our shared mission. This senior-level group will work to increase coordination, effectiveness and outcomes for children across our two departments’ major federally funded early learning programs. The board will oversee the implementation of a common set of quality indicators across Head Start, Child Care, I.D.E.A, and a range of other interagency activities. We’ll also charge the board with better coordinating research, technical assistance and data across the two departments – so that the folks who are running programs across the country will have an easier time blending federal funds to support children and families.”
On the Early Learning Challenge Fund:
“We also hope to start the Early Learning Challenge Fund. Like Race to the Top, this program would reward states that are leading the way with bold plans to improve early learning. We’ll be looking to fund states that are improving access to high-quality programs and are building a coordinated system of early care and education. The ultimate goal is to improve school readiness – especially of students who are at risk of school failure. I’m so pleased that the Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed $300 million dollars for this program in its fiscal 2011 bill. This is a great start for this program and we are committed to expanding it in future years. This might be the best long-term investment we can make.”