Miami-Dade Commissioner urges Gov. Scott and Florida Legislature to apply for Race to the Top early education funding

MIAMI – On September 1, 2011, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners approved legislation sponsored by Commissioner Barbara J. Jordan asking Florida Governor Rick Scott and the Legislature to apply for federal grant funding through the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge. The $500 million grant competition, open to all U.S. states, aims to reduce crime, strengthen national security, and boost U.S. competitiveness by investing in early education.

The competition was announced this past May by the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and U.S. Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as a result of business, law enforcement, and military leaders advocating for the increased investment into early education. The Early Learning Challenge will reward states that create comprehensive plans to transform early learning systems with better coordination, clearer learning standards, and meaningful workforce development. States will need to take action to increase the number and percentage of low-income and disadvantaged children in each age group of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who are enrolled in high-quality early learning programs, as well as design and implement an integrated system of high-quality early learning programs and services. In addition, they must ensure that any use of assessments conforms with the recommendations of the National Research Council’s reports on early childhood.

The most recent report from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) indicates that, for the first time in a decade, states are reducing some of their key investments in early learning as they deal with budget gaps. Research shows that high-quality early learning programs lead to long lasting positive outcomes for children, including increased rates of high school graduation, college attendance and college completion. Despite these research findings, just 40 percent of 4-year-olds in America are currently enrolled in preschool programs. Early Learning Challenge grants will encourage states to make the best possible use of current federal and state investments in early learning and child care so that children will be better prepared to enter school and have a greater chance of completing high school and college.

“If the State of Florida is chosen for this grant, it has the potential to receive as much as $100 million for a three-year period starting in 2012 for early childhood education. This is a boon for making early childhood education available to local low-income families who may not have access to quality pre-kindergarten education,” said Commissioner Jordan. “Not only would better education mean more productive residents in the future, but expanding access to early education and child care programs will also make it easier for working parents, giving them peace of mind that their children are in a high quality learning environment while they are at work.”

There may be some question whether Florida is eligible to apply for grant funding through the Early Learning Challenge because Florida passed up $3.4 million in grant funding from the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood and Home Visiting Program. Thus, the Miami-Dade Commission strongly urges the State of Florida and Governor Rick Scott to apply for the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge.

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