Race to the Top grant boosts early childhood education

By Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services

A federal grant awarded Friday, Dec. 16 provides Eastern North Carolina with a chance to increase and improve educational opportunities for young children, according to a faculty member in the East Carolina University School of Human Ecology.

North Carolina is one of nine states to earn the Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge grant from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Associate professor Archana Hegde, who also serves on Quality Rating and Improvement System Advisory Committee of the N.C. Division of Child Development and Family Education, called the first five years of life “pivotal” in an interview Monday.

“If we invest in early childhood development, we’ll have more children ready for kindergarten,” Hegde said. “All of this requires money.”

Pitt County and others in the northeastern region of the state are identified within the grant as a “transformational zone,” she continued. Concentrated populations of low-income families and children in need of high quality care and education will be eligible for focused programs.

Quality early childhood programs have proven to produce better education, health, family and economic outcomes, stated a news release from Gov. Bev Perdue’s office announcing the grant. Effective early education from birth to age five correlates with school readiness, academic achievement, college graduation, good citizenship and a productive workforce.

Rather than simply increasing the number of children served, Race to the Top funding should pay for improvements to poorly rated childcare centers.

The state’s grant proposal included several initiatives including:
  • Increasing the quality of early learning programs in underserved areas.
  • Expanding diagnostic screening programs to ensure early intervention for health and developmental problems for children.
  • Improving and expanding systems to gauge children’s progress.
  • Providing incentives and resources to support and strengthen the state’s early childhood workforce.
  • Providing training and assistance to help early childhood educators better engage family members in a child’s early development.
The university may play an indirect role in training and support for care providers and educators, Hegde said.

“This grant emphasizes the need to develop and support a skilled early childhood work force,” she said. “The Department of Child Development and Family Relations at East Carolina University will be called upon to examine and strengthen their existing courses in birth through kindergarten education at the bachelors and masters level.”

Thirty-seven applicants competed for a share of $500 million. While the exact amount of North Carolina’s grant will be announced later, the application requested approximately $70 million.

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