Focus on the Future: Early Childhood Education Roundtable in Harrisburg
As more of Pennsylvania’s children head back to school, on Friday, I travelled to Harrisburg to continue my conversations with state and local leaders about early learning opportunities in Pennsylvania to understand how we can ensure more of our youngest citizens get off to a good start in school and in life.
Whereas the week before I held a roundtable with leaders in Pottstown involved in the district’s pre-k readiness initiative (PEAK), this past Friday I met with leaders from across the state who are involved in implementing, overseeing and supporting early learning programs in the Commonwealth, including Head Start, Pre-K Counts, and Keystone Stars.
As was the case in Pottstown, leaders in Harrisburg voiced tremendous support for the programs and talked about the many ways that families and children have been helped by Pennsylvania’s investment in early learning. They emphasized that investments in early education and child care offer great value for the workforce of today, as well as the workforce of tomorrow, and that even in the face of tight budgets for families and the Commonwealth, they should be sustained. They also noted the need to support not just low-income families, but middle class families who also struggle to afford quality care and education for their young children.
I agree that such investments must be a priority – and not just for states. I was gratified that before the August recess, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported out a Labor-Health-Education bill that for FY2011 includes an increase of $1 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant – a program that supports states investments in child care – and an increase of nearly $1 billion for Head Start. This funding will help to ensure that states and communities continue to build on the strong work that has been done over the past several years to ensure more hard working American families and their children have access to high-quality early learning opportunities.
Of note, in the Labor-Health-Education bill, $300 million has been requested for the Early Learning Challenge Fund (ELCF). This fund is a terrific idea, as it would provide competitive grants to states to raise the bar for early childhood programs, encourage them to coordinate quality improvement activities across early learning settings, and increase the number of low-income children in high-quality programs. We must preserve support for ELCF in the final Appropriations package, as it will help to incentivize states to continue making investments in early learning.