A Critical Call to Fund Innovation and Quality for our Youngest Kids

The First Focus Campaign for Children is proud to join with Representative Mazie Hirono and Senator Bob Casey in supporting their requests to Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to create a separate fund that promotes the streamlining and coordination of high quality state programs of early learning for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.

Both Representative Hirono and Senator Casey, with the support of their colleagues, have asked that the fund be part of the $700 million allocated in the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011 (H.R. 1473), for Race to the Top.

Much like the Obama Administration’s call for an Early Learning Challenge Fund (ELCF), which would have created a dedicated source to improve the quality of state early learning systems, Senator Casey’s letter includes the cosponsors of his Supporting State Systems of Early Learning Act (SSSEL). In the letter Senator Casey stated:

“We are the cosponsors of the SSSEL Act, which aligns with the Administration’s support for an ELCF [Early Learning Challenge Fund]. We believe that the key elements and approach in this bill should drive a free-standing early learning initiative through a separate and distinct competition.”

This separate funding for streamlining state early education and development programs would be jointly administered by HHS and the Department of Education. With the focus solely on early learning and development, some of the goals for this program include:

- Helping to create developmentally appropriate early learning standards;
- Supporting states that are developing system wide, holistic approaches to early learning that include integration with elementary education;
- Providing states funding for the critical goal of streamlining and unifying all early childhood programs;
- Improving the qualifications and effectiveness of the early learning workforce; and
- Establishing data systems to track and measure program quality.

In the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011 (H.R. 1473), Congress appropriated the additional $700 million for Race to the Top while also adding a fifth assurance to the program’s language. This fifth assurance makes certain that early learning will now be one of the program’s priorities. However, there were no other instructions in the legislative language as to how this funding or new assurance should be used. Executive agencies have until May 15, 2011 to release their official spending plan for the current fiscal year. These letters are a good step forward in helping to outline the priorities for this additional funding.

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