Wisconsin was selected to receive one of the coveted Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge education grants announced today by the federal government. The state competed for an opportunity to raise the level of quality and access for our most at-risk children and will use the $22.7 million in funding to advance current state initiatives targeted at early childhood development. Wisconsin is one of five states who were eligible for funds in the second round of funding in 2012.
"Wisconsin has long been a leader in providing quality early childhood education," said Governor Scott Walker. "These funds will support innovative initiatives that will improve quality and outcomes for children as well as create efficiency and accountability within the system."
"Research shows that children with high needs who participate in high quality early learning and development programs are more likely to enter school ready to succeed," said Governor Walker. "It is important that we identify children who are struggling and make sure they get the help they need as early as possible. My administration is committed to giving all children the educational foundation they need to achieve success."
Under the grant proposal, Wisconsin proposes an ambitious reform agenda that builds on the state's historic commitment to high quality early learning and development programs and incorporates recommendations made by the Governor's Early Childhood Advisory Council in its 2011 report to Governor Walker.
The Department of Children and Families is the lead agency for the four-year grant and will focus on improving YoungStar to better serve high risk kids and help providers improve their YoungStar quality rating. They will strengthen efforts to engage parents and improve their children's early learning and development.
"All children need to be ready for school and it is imperative that we address the school readiness gap that exists between kids of different economic and racial backgrounds," said Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary Eloise Anderson. "Improving the quality of early childhood development will pay dividends for all Wisconsin citizens and future generations and ensure children are better prepared to succeed in school and in life."
The grant will also help build an early learning and development service delivery system across three state agencies: the Department of Children and Families, Department of Public Instruction and the Department of Health Services. It will provide resources to the three agencies to build an early childhood data tracking system that will allow the state to align services and standards across programs such as YoungStar, HeadStart or 4-year old kindergarten, and track outcomes so that quality improvements can be targeted to those programs where the most high-risk children are enrolled.
DCF will also pursue the creation of a private/public partnership board that will leverage private sector resources and engage communities to improve early childhood development.
"High quality early learning opportunities are key to preparing all students for school success and reducing achievement gaps before they start," said State Superintendent Tony Evers. "This grant significantly strengthens the partnerships that provide for Wisconsin's youngest children and our future."
It enables the Department of Public Instruction to provide more coaching and mentoring that aligns instruction to the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards, building on our new statewide Kindergarten literacy assessment. These resources will also support efforts to improve early childhood teaching preparation programs, and data systems.