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New Federal Grant Program to Boost Early Learning

Dorothy Rowley | 4/8/2014, 2:54 p.m.
A $500 million grant program for early education was appropriated in January by Congress. (Courtesy of ed.gov)

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said in the wake of his loss in the April 1 Democratic primary that the city boasts the most robust early education program in the nation.

Now the District has another opportunity to bolster the program through the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, a new nationwide initiative.

The Partnerships project, which aims to connect children and their families to resources in their neighborhoods, will make available 5-year grants to entities that can demonstrate their current or proposed capacity as a high-quality Early Head Start program.

Funds will be awarded through a Head Start grant process and allow new or existing Early Head Start programs to partner with local child care centers and family child care providers serving infants and toddlers from low-income families.

The $500 million grant program, appropriated in January by Congress, dovetails with President Barack Obama's Early Learning Initiative, which focuses on children from birth to age 5.

"In conjunction with the Affordable Care Act, which includes thousands of young children among the 7.1 million people who have enrolled, this [partnership] is the most exciting thing going on at the Department of Health and Human Services," Shannon Rudisill, director of the department's Office of Child Care, said during an April 4 teleconference.

Rudisill said that with 64 percent of children enrolled in child care programs living in households where parents are working hard to make ends meet, applying for portions of the grant money would be an opportunity for states and the District to raise the bar for quality child care nationwide.

There are currently more than 400,000 children in subsidized child care programs across the nation. State governments provide an average monthly subsidy of $5,500, which Rudisill said is "nowhere near the cost to do child care right."

Rudisill said virtually all groups and agencies — including states and faith-based organizations — are eligible for a share of the grant money for their programs.

"We expect a very wide range of applicants but will fund programs of extremely high quality," she said. "We expect this to be very competitive."

Angie Godfrey, special liaison to the Office of Head Start, said she "can't imagine a more wonderful opportunity" for early head start and child care programs.

"I just think that it's one of the most exciting opportunities we've had and I'm hoping that many, many people will apply."

For more information on the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, visit acf.hhs.gov.