By Dionna Anderson
Foundation for Early Learning
With President Obama announcing last week that Washington had been selected to win the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Fund grant, Philanthropy Northwest members working in early learning were pleased with the news. Washington State, along with California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island will share $500 million in grants that will go to support children from birth to age 5 become ready for Kindergarten.
“This is a great accomplishment for Washington and reflects years of collaborative work by many early learning partners. The award will allow us to build on the statewide early learning plan that was developed in 2010 under the leadership of the Washington State Department of Early Learning, Thrive by Five Washington and the Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and supported by a cast of hundreds,” said Nina Auerbach, president and CEO for Thrive by Five Washington.
Erin Okuno, program officer for the Foundation for Early Childhood Learning also talks about the collaboration in applying for this grant. “Many organizations contributed by writing letters of support and outreach. There was also support from several Early Childhood Learning advocates who worked hard to prime the state to get this funding and they deserve a lot of credit too.”
The Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge is a federal grant competition run by the United States Department of Education and United States Department of Health and Human Services. It was designed to help states build infrastructure around early learning including data collection and aligning services. Thirty-five states, plus Washington DC and Puerto Rico competed for grants.
Washington State will receive $60 million to support Early Childhood Learning. Erin talks about how the grant will assist children in Washington State. “Children in Washington will definitely benefit from the infusion of $60 million. For starters any time positive attention is given to early learning it helps all children. A child born today doesn’t have three, five, ten years for adults to figure out what is best—they don’t stop growing or learning. The grant money will help to align systems and get people talking to each other.” The United States Department for Educations has an Early Learning Challenge chart which illustrates the priorities for the grant.
Two programs that will benefit from the Early Learning Challenge grant are Washington’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) and Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills or WaKIDS. “It will be exciting to see implementation of QRIS and WaKIDS. QRIS will give parents and caregivers needed information on the quality of the child care they are placing their child into and gives teachers and child care directors the recognition they deserve and ways to improve. WaKIDS will help teachers, parents, and most importantly have smoother transitions to Kindergarten. It will also give us much needed data on the readiness of children as they enter kindergarten. Other programs such as Reach Out and Read and the Washington State Child Care Resource & Referral Network may also see a boost,” says Erin.
Nina shares her thoughts on what this grant means for Washington State, “Our plan for Race to the Top will help us to catapult the development and implementation of our state’s QRIS, which is designed to improve child care quality so that more children will enter school prepared to succeed. It will also help us to reach statewide implementation of WaKids, our state’s kindergarten assessment process. And it will provide funds for the widespread dissemination of our state’s new Early Learning Guidelines. All of these things will help us provide a stronger, more coordinated early learning system for our state’s most vulnerable children and families.” WaKIDS is funded with state, federal and private funding. Thrive by Five is one of its private funders along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Although the Early Learning Challenge grant will do a lot for children in the state of Washington, Erin is quick to remind funders that there is still more to do. “As funders our job isn’t done. A one-time infusion of cash doesn’t solve all of the problems. We need to continue to take an interest in early learning. It was through private funding that some of the infrastructure such as WaKIDS and home visiting were ready to go.”