12/18/11 — North Carolina qualifies for portion of $500 million early childhood grant

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North Carolina qualifies for portion of $500 million early childhood grant

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 18, 2011 1:50 AM

The Partnership for Children of Wayne County might be getting an unexpected boost to its services, as North Carolina was named one of nine states that will share $500 million in grant money for early childhood programs.

The official announcement was expected Friday that the "Race to the Top" grant competition would help jump-start improvements in programs in N.C. as well as California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington.

The competition for the federal dollars would help prepare children from birth to age 5 for kindergarten. Last year, $4 billion in similar grants focused on K-12 education.

Thirty-five states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico applied for the $50 million to $100 million awards. Funding would be used to help build statewide systems to enhance early learning programs, including child care, Head Start centers and public and private preschools.

The Partnership for Children has experienced drastic cutbacks in recent years as the state coffers have not produced sufficient funds to support it.

In August, a state judge's ruling that no child be turned away from preschool programs, despite lack of funding to pay for the programs, sent officials scrambling. Charles Ivey, executive director of the local Partnership, said at the time that the state program cut 135 pre-K slots from Wayne County for 2011-12.

While billions are spent annually in America on early education programs, roughly half of all 3-year-olds and about a quarter of 4-year-olds do not attend preschool, said Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

Officials have long maintained that children who attend quality early education programs tend to do better in school, are less likely to do prison time later and ultimately make more money as adults. Children from low-income families who start kindergarten without any schooling also have another gap, typically starting school 18 months behind their peers.

To win the grant money, states were asked to demonstrate a commitment to making programs more accessible, coordinated and more effective. The application also focused on how agencies provide professional development for teachers and create ways to assess the education level of kids entering kindergarten.

Ivey said Friday that he was pleased to learn about the potential funding for the Partnership, even though the variables are still unknown.

"We're just really excited about the possibilities of improving services to our preschools," he said. "In terms of specifics, I do not know how it will pan out in terms of locally. It can only be a tremendous boost to our programs.

"We're waiting to see and get more details. It's certainly a ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak economic picture."

--The Associated Press also contributed to this report.