The National School Boards Association (NSBA) has weighed in on a new $250 million federal Race to the Top (RTT) grant program for early childhood care and education, saying it shares the U.S. Department of Education’s commitment to ensuring that all children arrive at school ready to learn. But NSBA is also urging the education department and its partner in the grant, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to “require significant local education agency (LEA) involvement” in state applications for the competition.
In a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Kathleen Sebelius, director of HHS, which is also participating in the grant, NSBA Interim Associate Executive Director Reginald M. Felton noted that local school districts “are essential in the P-3 continuum of education and care, and the success of the RTT- preschool program will be improved by integrating the perspective of local schools boards.”
Underscoring the critical importance of school district involvement, Felton urged the education department to require that at least 80 percent of competitive grants awarded by the program “be disseminated to local eligible entities as subgrants.”
Duncan described the program as “a major new competition to build, develop and expand high-quality preschool programs, working with local communities and with states,” including Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. He said the program is distinct from the RTT – Early Learning Challenge, which is designed to help the 20 state recipients increase the low-income number children, from birth to age 5, who are ready for kindergarten. By contrast, the new grant focuses specifically on preschool for 4-year-olds.
Felton noted, in the NSBA letter, the importance of maintaining local control for school districts receiving grants. Noting that school district capacity “has been overwhelmed with requirements” for other RTT state grants, he urged the education department “to support capacity building for local eligible entities, not just states.”And he said the department should not make receipt of the funds conditional on the development of new-nationally recognized standards.
In his announcement of the new competition, Duncan said any new program should include “comprehensive services and family engagement” and use RTT preschool grant funds to help programs meet “nationally recognized standards in those areas.”
According to an NSBA issue brief on early childhood education, NSBA said that federal legislation must: be voluntary; support the school district’s role in early learning; be adequately funded so as not to require a redirection of federal, state, or local resources for current K-12 programs; and support and permit maximum flexibility in the use of federal funds. In addition, NSBA said, this legislation must “respect local school board authority in school district matters such as personnel and workforce issues.”