Mayor Gray Lauds Progress on Early Childhood System Improvements

WI Web Staff Report | 12/18/2011, 8:58 a.m.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Mayor Vincent C. Gray has lauded the District's efforts on early-childhood education. The District of Columbia was one of 37 applicants - including 35 other states and Puerto Rico - that competed for the White House's Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants.

While the District was not one of the nine states the White House selected for grants, the competition provided an unprecedented opportunity for D.C. to bring multiple government agencies together to accelerate systemic and sustained policy change that will significantly raise the level of quality and access to early learning and development opportunities for our city's most at-risk children.

"While the District was not selected in this round, I am enthusiastic about the plan we submitted for the Early Learning Challenge and the potential for improving the coordination, efficiency and effectiveness of our early-childhood programs," said Mayor Gray, a longtime advocate for early-childhood education. "Although we did not win federal funding, we are committed to continuing our efforts in improving early childhood education in the District."

The application process was facilitated by the Deputy Mayor for Education, working in conjunction with the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services. The D.C. Departments of Health, Human Services, Mental Health, Health Care Finance, the Child and Family Services Agency, and the State Early Childhood Development Coordinating Council joined the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in signing on to the application.

With 37 applicants eligible for awards, state demand quickly outstripped the $500 million appropriated to the Early Learning Challenge in Fiscal Year 2011.

The District's application and the Mayor's early childhood vision include plans to:

Increase the percentage of children receiving health and developmental screenings before entering kindergarten; create a universal screening-and-referral process for all parents of newborns; implement an enhanced Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) open to all home-, center- and school-based early-childhood care and education programs serving children birth through age 5 in the District; and provide incentives, including quality supports and technical assistance, for high-quality early learning and development programs.

"The District will continue to push forward, increasing access to high-quality early childhood and development options for all children in our city - and especially for infants and toddlers. We will also implement systematic changes we identified in the application process and seek public-private funding for the promising innovations proposed," said Gray. "The bottom line is, improving the quality of early learning in the District will produce quality results that will pay dividends to all for generations to come."

Research demonstrates that quality birth-to-age-5 early learning and development programs for at-risk children generate an average annual return of 7 to 10 percent by preventing the downstream problems in education, health, social and economic productivity that place heavy burdens on local, state and national budgets, as well as weaken our global competitiveness and security.