By Linda K. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood
I recently had someone comment that 2014 has been an amazing year for the early childhood field. I would agree that this is indeed true! As I reflect on the President’s Agenda over the last five years, I want to acknowledge that this has been true throughout this administration.
The President’s Early Learning Initiative is about building a Birth to Five Continuum of High Quality Early Care and Education. Most recently, the Administration laid out a plan that included extending and expanding evidence-based, voluntary home visiting, growing the supply of effective early learning opportunities for young children through Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships and providing high-quality preschool for every child. The Initiative builds on the President’s Early Childhood Commitment seen early in this administration with the funding of State Advisory Councils and the funding for Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC). The State Advisory Councils laid the groundwork for much of the work over the last three years.
In the next few weeks, a quick facts document on the State Advisory Councils (SAC) will be released and later this summer, we will issue a final report on the efforts in our states and territories. Our April newsletter shared information on one of the required SAC activities, needs assessments of the quality and availability of care. As expected, states approached the tasks differently, examining gaps and opportunities on a variety of measures. What is truly important about this work is that states now have this information for future work. Many used it for RTT-ELC applications.
As part of President Obama’s Early Learning Initiative, the Administration for Children and Families will soon make available $500 million for Early Head Start-Child Care (EHS-CC) Partnerships to encourage the collaboration between Early Head Start and child care providers to deliver more high quality learning opportunities and services to very young children and their families. With the launch of the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, we are raising the quality of care for the neediest children, providing more of our nation’s children with the fundamental skills they need to reach their full potential.
So many of you have shared your thoughts that the Partnerships are more than a grant program. I couldn’t agree more! It is an opportunity to be a change agent for our communities and our youngest children. This is a chance to think more globally about what we do and who we partner with. I hope states and communities will use the rich information from the SAC Needs Assessments as they develop Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership grants. It is an opportunity to address community needs more efficiently and effectively by using all available resources. This is an opportunity to think about the people who need to be at the table as we plan for high quality early learning with strong comprehensive services. Will you work with your community health centers? How do you work with Part B & Part C Early Intervention? Do you have a strong partnership with CACFP? Are there community colleges and four year institutions that will support an early childhood career ladder for the educated workforce we need? How will you connect with Head Start and Pre-K for a birth to five continuum of services? Needless to say, you may not answer all these questions and you will think of your own to add to this list. What is important is that this is an opportunity to look at the whole picture!
We’ve been excited by the response to our webinars, emails, blogs and webpage tools. We’ve already had 37,000 hits to the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships Toolkit in only a few weeks and the funding opportunity announcement is not yet out. The support and enthusiasm for what lies ahead is exciting. We are indeed building a new foundation for advancing quality early learning.
This is a historic time for early childhood education at the federal level. We will build on the lessons learned through the Designation Renewal System (DRS), Early Head Start-Family Child Care Partnership project, quality initiatives including the growth of Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) in the states, Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, the State Advisory Councils and many other initiatives.
We look forward to working with you in the year ahead. Continue to look for information from the Office of Early Childhood as we build services together for our children and families.