In a speech on March 1, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan pledged to make early learning a key part of his reauthorization push for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and to use grant programs to encourage states to create programs for the youngest learners. “We don’t need another study to know how important it is for our babies to get off to a good start,” Duncan told a gathering of philanthropists and children’s advocates working to ensure that all children learn to read by the end of 3rd grade. “We simply haven’t done that work effectively enough, we haven’t done it in a strategic manner, we haven’t done it in a coordinated way.”
Duncan and other department officials noted that the fiscal year 2012 budget includes $350 million to create an Early Learning Challenge Grant program, which would award money to states creating coordinated early learning programs. In addition, the Education Department and the Health and Human Services Department have developed an interagency working group to align early childhood programs. Furthermore, nine of 12 Race to the Top grant winners included early learning in their plans.
Duncan’s comments came before an audience of foundation leaders, nonprofit providers and children’s advocates who have come together as the Campaign for Grade-level Reading. The campaign is a collaborative effort to ensure that all students, particularly low-income children, reach the critical milestone of reading proficiency by the end of 3rd grade. For more information, visit the Campaign for Grade-level Reading website.