Early Ed Watch

Meanwhile, in the Appropriations Committee ...

Last Friday the House Appropriations Committee passed its version of the fiscal year 2010 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, which funds early education programs operated by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education.

The bill includes $7.2 billion in funding for Head Start, a $122 million (1.7 percent) increase over the fiscal year 2009 funding level, and $2.1 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, the same funding level as in fiscal year 2009. The bill also sets aside $271 million in CCDBG for quality improvement, above the 4 percent of CCDBG funds automatically set-aside for quality. $99 million of these funds are directed towards improving quality of care for infants and toddlers. These funding levels match those proposed by the Obama administration in the President's fiscal year 2010 budget request.

'Early Learning Facilities' Would Get Construction Dollars Under Miller's Bill

It's rare to see early childhood centers being included in discussions of school construction -- an omission that we've lamented before. But the new education bill moving through Congress this week offers good news on that front. The bill not only provides $5 billion for construction and renovation of K-12 schools, it also includes a parenthetical reference to "early learning facilities, as appropriate."

The bill -- the Student Aid and Fiscal Reform Act introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif) -- cleared the House Education and Labor Committee yesterday, 30 to 17.  

For more information on the how these construction funds could be used, see yesterday's post by our sister blog, Ed Money Watch.

Early Learning Challenge Fund -- Trimmed to an 8-Year Program -- Is Approved by House Committee

A major new federal investment in early education, the Early Learning Challenge Grant program that was included in legislation introduced last week by House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, and which we wrote about here, cleared its first hurdle on the way to becoming law yesterday. The House Committee on Education and Labor passed a reconciliation bill that would overhaul federal student loan programs and use some of the savings from those reforms to fund Early Learning Challenge Grants. 

As included in the committee-passed bill, the Early Learning Challenge Grant program is virtually unchanged from Miller's original bill. But the House committee did chop funding for the Early Learning Challenge Grants in the last years of the reconciliation bill's 10-year time frame. Instead of a program that sends $1 billion to states each year until 2019, the program is now described as ending in 2017. In other words, the new bill sets the funding at $8 billion over 8 years intead of $10 billion over 10. 

Signs of Success from PreK-3rd Strategy in Bremerton, Wash.

An initiative to help children prepare for school has been quietly underway in Bremerton, Wash. over the past several years -- and we're starting to see signs that it's working. Linda Sullivan-Dudzic, the Director of Special Programs in Bremerton, WA, explained the underlying philosophy of the Early Learning Program in a recent interview with Public School Insights, a website maintained by the Learning First Alliance for discussion of "what works" in public schools. 

In the interview, she touches on a number of ingredients that appear to have played a role, including partnerships with community-based providers, "friendly accountability," and PreK-3rd alignment.

The program focuses on creating partnerships with numerous community-based preschool providers: "We've had deep relationships in the community," Sullivan-Dudzic said. It was important, she added, that the district partner with existing schools to make curricula more rigorous and offer district-provided literacy coaches. Working with faith-based and community-based organizations allowed the district to reach almost 600 students immediately.

Attention: New Research Is Changing the Picture of Why Children Have Trouble in School

Conventional wisdom often paints a picture of the poorly behaved student as the future flunkee. Even in early elementary school, we're led to believe, the kids who get in trouble will be the ones who struggle academically and eventually come home with failing grades.

Now new research is scrambling that image and bringing a few new culprits into focus. Two of them -- low levels of math and reading skill at early ages -- have received a lot of attention in early childhood circles, driving the movement for academically oriented pre-K programs. But something else may be to blame as well: the inability to pay attention. 

A study in last month's Pediatrics shows that the greater a child's attention problems at age 6, the more likely that child will perform poorly on tests of math and reading in the last few years of high school. Contrary to some of their own expectations, researchers found no connection between achievement and behavioral problems, whether they were aggressive actions (such as children pushing classmates or lashing out at the teacher) or issues like depression or withdrawal. The study examined data on nearly 700 children of varying family backgrounds.

Standing Together: Duncan and Sebelius Support Bill for Early Learning Grants

This morning the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, which includes a provision establishing Early Learning Challenge Grants for states, got another push, this time from Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Moving Quickly and Called 'Mandatory': What You Need to Know About the Federal Bill on Early Learning Grants

The early childhood community is just starting to digest yesterday's news about legislation in Congress that could provide a new stream of money for states setting up high-quality early learning systems. In the hubbub and coming analysis on the bill's details, we also shouldn't miss some important elements of not just what it says, but how it has been introduced. In other words, it's time to practice saying two words: reconciliation and mandatory.

The early education piece is a small section of much larger bill designed to overhaul the government's student loan program. That bill is a reconciliation bill, meaning that it is specifically designed to move through Congress much faster than your typical piece of legislation.

Who Knew Student Loan Reform Could Mean So Much To Early Childhood?

A centerpiece of President Obama's early education plan -- the Early Learning Challenge Fund -- just got its ticket to ride in a sweeping student aid bill introduced today by House Education and Labor Chairman George Miller.

The primary purpose of the Student Aid and Financial Responsibility Act (SAFRA) is to reform federal programs that provide subsidized loans for college students. The proposed reforms would create some $87 billion in taxpayer savings. Miller's legislation would capture a portion of those savings -- $10 billion over 10 years -- to fund Early Learning Challenge Grants. (Here's the full text of the legislation.)

The details of the program are similar to what the administration outlined in its fiscal year 2010 budget proposal. A key difference is that SAFRA would provide $1 billion in mandatory funding for early childhood programs each year over the next 10 years, rather than the $300 million in discretionary spending the Obama administration initially sought for 2010.

A summary of the bill posted online earlier today says that to win these grants, states would need to commit to build comprehensive early childhood systems that include:

Taking the Helm at the Administration for Children and Families

New leaders are coming aboard at the Administration for Children and Families, the part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that deals with Head Start and child care programs.

Carmen Nazario was nominated by President Obama in May to be the assistant secretary for children and families. She is awaiting confirmation by the Senate. Nazario knows ACF from her days as an associate commissioner during the Clinton Administration and has led Delaware's health and human services department as well as the children and families administration within Puerto Rico's health and human services department. A former social worker, she most recently taught social policy at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico.

Towards Universal Pre-K: An Update from West Virginia

For some reason, people often forget about West Virginia when talking about pre-k policy. But West Virginia -- like Georgia, Oklahoma, Illinois and New York -- is also committed to building towards a voluntary, universal pre-k program for four-year olds. Earlier this spring, REL Appalachia and the Institute for Education Sciences gave us an update on how they are doing.

The report finds that 43 percent of the state's 4-year olds were enrolled in the pre-k program in 2006-07. That's a 65 percent increase from 2002-03, and it represents good progress towards the state's stated goal of enrolling 80 percent of 4-year-olds by 2013. Over the same period, the share of children enrolled in "collaborative partner" programs, where state funds are blended with funding from Head Start and community-based programs, grew to nearly one-third of all children in state-funded pre-k, rate faster than enrollment growth in school-based programs. (The 2002 law that created the pre-k program says that 50 percent of children should be in collaborative partner programs by 2013). Enrollment growth was roughly the same across different racial subgroups, though enrollment of low-income children appears to have slowed in recent years.