Georgia was named one of six additional states on Thursday that will share a $280 million grant to improve the quality and access for early childhood learning programs.
Georgia will receive $51.7 million in the 2013 Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Fund, which will help develop a kindergarten readiness assessment, expand access to pre-kindergarten for low-income families, improve the state’s rating system for child care and learning centers, and provide more training for teachers.
The federal grant program began in 2011 and has awarded more than $1 billion to 14 states before the six states added Thursday.
Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning will be responsible for dispersing the money throughout the state. Commissioner Bobby Cagle said about half of the $51 million will go toward bolstering the state’s Quality Rated evaluation system that launched in 2012.
Cagle said child care facilities participating in the voluntary program will receive higher reimbursements for expanding access to low-income children. Money will also go toward incentives for joining the evaluation system, which rates facilities on criteria such as learning environment, staff qualifications, physical activity and food nutrition.
“We think investing early will increase educational outcomes,” Cagle said. “It will prevent much of the retaining of students in grades, which costs us about twice what it cost normally to educate students. We want to get it out there early and prevent having to invest on the back end.”
Over the four years of the grant, the state will also develop transition programs that help pupils progress more seamlessely from pre-k into elementary schools. Teachers will be provided more training and will get support in earning higher certifications and degrees.
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the Obama administration’s investment in early learning is crucial to improving the educational landscape in the country. Research over the last few decades has shown students involved in early learning programs like pre-k are more likely to be on grade level in math, graduate high school on time, and keep steady employment.
Duncan said that in turn has a direct effect on the nation’s economy and readiness of the workforce.
“Providing high quality early learning opportunities is the single most important step we can take as a nation for the future of our young people,” Duncan said in a media conference call.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said in the conference call that in the three years since his state received the grant, educators increased the number of kids in early education from one in 20 to one in three.
As the lottery funds that support Georgia’s pre-K program declined over the years, the state made cuts to the budget, leaving 8,000 children on a waiting list.
Gov. Nathan Deal said this grant will help by giving facilities incentives and funds to include more children in their programs.
“Laying the foundation as early as possible in this early learning period will greatly enhance our overall educational efforts,” Deal said in the conference call.