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Vol. 45, No. 60

Aug. 5, 2011

Stakeholders Discuss State Proposal for Early Learning Grant

Missouri plans to compete for share of $500 million in federal funding

Stakeholders from throughout Missouri met in Jefferson City today to discuss the state’s plan to apply for a share of $500 million in federal funding for early childhood education.

A joint project of the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge was announced earlier this year.  The grant will reward states that create comprehensive plans to transform early learning systems with better coordination, clearer learning standards and meaningful workforce development.

Under the terms of the grant, Missouri would be eligible to receive up to $60 million over a four-year period. 

Today’s meeting was coordinated by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  At the meeting, participants broke off into smaller workgroups to help determine how a comprehensive, coordinated early learning system would function.  This input will be added to the work already done by Missouri’s Coordinating Board for Early Childhood and the state’s Early Learning Challenge steering committee, which includes representatives from a variety of state government agencies and state/local organizations.

One of the grant’s main goals is to increase early learning access for children from low-income families.  Commissioner of Education Chris L. Nicastro said education research reinforces the importance of such access. 

“We need to prepare our state’s children for a bright future filled with options, and early learning is an essential part of that,” Nicastro said.  “Attending an early education program means that a child is less likely to drop out of school and less likely to require remedial classes.”

Kathy Thornburg, assistant commissioner for the Office of Early and Extended Learning, said Missouri is in an excellent position to be competitive for the Early Learning Challenge.

“Through the grant, we would have the opportunity to develop a complete system that supports children in the early years of life and as they transition to the early years of elementary school,” Thornburg said.

The grant application will be released later this summer; funding will be awarded to states by Dec. 31.