Early Childhood

Governors Urged to Seize Pre-K Momentum

By Christina A. Samuels — March 04, 2014 2 min read
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addresses the education and workforce committee session of the National Governors Association winter meeting in Washington. From left are Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan described expansion of early-childhood education as an inevitability, not merely an aspiration, in his remarks to a receptive group of governors gathered here for the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.

“This is a parade I think you all want to be in front of, not behind,” Mr. Duncan told the members of the association’s education and workforce committee gathered at the JW Marriott hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, close to both the Capitol and the White House.

His talk was part of a Feb. 21-24 meeting of the NGA that included a visit to the White House, where President Barack Obama—who himself has made early-childhood education a budget and policy priority—told the state leaders that he “enjoyed watching some of you with your eyes on higher office size up the drapes—and each other.”

Mr. Duncan’s presentation to the governors comes at a time when many states and cities already are pushing ahead on early education.

For example, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, is pressing his state’s lawmakers to allow the city to tax high-earning residents to pay for preschool, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat, has released a state preschool-expansion plan.

Republican Govs. Rick Snyder of Michigan and Robert Bentley of Alabama are also among the state leaders pushing for more early-education money in their states.

Part of Mr. Duncan’s reasoning for why an expansion of pre-K is inevitable: A broad coalition of business leaders, law-enforcement officials, parents, and school officials is asking for such efforts; kindergarten-readiness assessments are showing that many children are far behind their peers when they start school; and, he said, there’s an “enormous and persistent unmet need” for early-childhood programs.

New Race to Top Round

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, asked the education secretary for details on the newest round of federal Race to the Top funding geared to supporting early education. Congress allocated $250 million for the program in the budget bill passed earlier this year, and has distributed about a billion dollars among 20 states in previous rounds.

Nevada has applied twice for such funding, but its “Silver State Strong” proposal has not been among the winners.

Secretary Duncan said the program would continue to “invest in states” along a “zero-to-5 [age] continuum,” but did not offer many specifics—perhaps because his department and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services still are trying to nail down exactly what that new competition will look like.

The first Race to the Top competition that focused on early learning distributed $500 million among nine states in 2011. In 2012, five states divided $133 million. A third round, in 2013, awarded $280 million to six states.

The U.S. Department of Education has said that the newest grant program will be “distinct” from what has come before, however, and solicited comments online for how that $250 million program should be structured. Supporters of Montessori education, for example, have made their presence known.

Education and career training were also on the agenda of the NGA’s winter meeting, with Jeffrey M. Immelt, the chief executive officer of General Electric, addressing the state leaders on Feb. 22 on the subject of job training.

A version of this article appeared in the March 05, 2014 edition of Education Week as Push to Expand Pre-K Key Education Topic As Governors Gather

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