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Head Start Grants, Private Commitments to Boost Early-Childhood Programs

Obama-summit.jpg

Washington

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday announced the 234 preliminary recipients of $500 million in federal grants intended to link child-care providers to Early Head Start programs, at a day-long White House event focused on early-childhood education.

As part of the first White House Summit on Early Education, President Barack Obama also lent his support to an coalition of public and private organizations that jointly made more than $330 million in commitments to early learning, through a new initiative called Invest in US

"Early education is one of the best investments we can make," the president said, offering a familiar argument from supporters of early-childhood programs, and noting that many states and cities have gone on to make that investment on their own. Still, "fewer than 3 in 10 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool," he said. (According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, 28 percent of 4-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded preschool as of 2013. That figure has been about the same for the last four years.)

In contrast to the $250 million Preschool Development Grants also announced on Wednesday, the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership grants are aimed at improving the quality of programs that serve infants and young children. To win the grant, the child-care centers or family providers agree to follow the same federal rules as Early Head Start centers. In some cases, such as child-to-teacher ratios, the federal policies are more stringent than what some states require. 

In addition to the partnerships, the money could also be used by current Early Head Start programs to expand the services that they already offer, without a private partner. But grantees got extra points for proposing a partnership. 

The grants are being called preliminary because HHS is still in the process of negotiating with providers. The entire $500 million is expected to be awarded by March. 

On the private philanthropy side, the Invest in US coalition unveiled close to $341 million in commitments, including direct funds and in-kind donations. Examples include $15 million from the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, which will be used to expand preschool in Omaha, which includes some of Nebraska's highest concentrations of children in poverty. The Disney Company plans to donate $55 million in computer applications and books to organizations that promote early literacy. United Parcel Service plans to commit $5 million to support grade-level reading initiatives in 100 communities

"Investing in our kids is not just a job for the federal government," Obama said, praising the private efforts. "I'm calling on all Americans across the country to work on their own commitments to children." 

President Barack Obama hugs Alajah Lane, 9, of Washington, after she introduced him at the White House on Wednesday. Obama spoke about early-childhood education.—Jacquelyn Martin/AP​

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