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Vol. 45, No. 91
Oct. 19, 2011

State Submits Plan to Strengthen Early Learning

Missouri is competing for $60 million in federal funds to build a coordinated early childhood education system over the next four years.  The grant would help improve and expand accessibility to quality early learning programs, especially by high-needs children before they start kindergarten.

State education officials discussed Missouri’s proposal for the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge during the State Board of Education meeting held in Jefferson City on Tuesday (Oct. 18).  The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is coordinating efforts for the state’s application.

Kathy Thornburg, assistant commissioner of the Department’s Office of Early and Extended Learning, said the strength of Missouri’s comprehensive plan is the partnership of six key agencies that provide services for children:  the departments of education, health, mental health, and social services, the Coordinating Board for Early Childhood and the Missouri Head Start-State Collaboration Office.  Overall, more than 275 individuals participated in the development of the proposal.

The $500 million early learning initiative is jointly administered by the U.S. departments of education and health and human services.  The grants will support selected states’ efforts to increase the number of low-income and high-needs infants, toddlers and preschoolers who are enrolled in high-quality early learning programs.

Thornburg told state board members that the grant opportunity aligned with the Department’s existing “Top 10 by 20” strategic plan to ensure all Missouri children enter kindergarten prepared to be successful in school.

“We are working to make it happen – with or without the receipt of the grant money,” Thornburg said.  “Our plan provides a good roadmap for moving forward in a coordinated manner.”

State Board of Education Vice President Stan Archie acknowledged that the work to develop a coordinated early learning system in Missouri was already underway to achieve Top 10 by 20, but the grant deadline caused the agencies to work quickly.

“We have to do something in early childhood that is going to create opportunities for learning more evenly across the board and at an earlier level,” Archie said.