Sunday, September 20, 2009

Controlling future generations

"More taxes and more birth to death control of everyone. Gotta get those babies before families influence them." -- a reader of this blog (I agree, of course)

Bill aims to improve early-childhood programs
Sunday, September 20, 2009 3:54 AM
By Sam Dillon


Today's political news
Tucked away in an $87 billion higher-education bill that passed the House last week was a broad new federal initiative aimed not at benefiting college students, but at raising quality in the early-learning and care programs that serve children from birth through age 5.
The initiative, the Early Learning Challenge Fund, would channel $8 billion over eight years to states with plans to improve standards, training and oversight of programs serving infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

The Senate is expected to pass similar legislation this fall. President Barack Obama, who proposed the Challenge Fund during the presidential campaign, is expected sign the legislation in December.

Experts describe the current array of programs serving young children and their families nationwide as a hodgepodge of efforts with little coordination or coherence. Financing comes from a shifting mix of private, local, state and federal money. Programs are run out of storefronts and churches, homes and Head Start centers, public schools and other facilities. Quality is uneven, with some offering stimulating activities, play and instruction but others providing little more than a room and a television.

Oversight varies by state, but most lack any early-childhood structure analogous to the state and local boards of education that govern public schools. A result is that poor children, even many who have access to government-financed early care or learning programs, tend to enter kindergarten less prepared for school than those with wealthier parents.

To qualify for grants, states would have to demonstrate that they have established or improved what the bill calls a "governance structure" for their networks of child-care centers and pre-kindergarten programs. The departments of Education and Health and Human Services would jointly administer the Challenge Fund.

Sharon Lynn Kagan, a professor at Columbia University's Teachers College in New York who has traced the history of U.S. child-care programs back to the early 19th century, wrote a paper last year advocating federal aid to states in building a more coherent and robust early-childhood infrastructure.

"No one bill can solve everything," Kagan said, "but this will move us more than any other piece of legislation toward higher quality in early education, not just more spaces for children."

The Early Learning Challenge Fund would steer $8 billion over eight years
to states.

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