Education Secretary Arne Duncan kicks off preschool grant competition in Pittsburgh

In the wake of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s announcement that Pennsylvania can compete for up to $20 million in federal money for early childhood education, the Pittsburgh community is gearing up to seek money to expand quality early childhood education here.

Mr. Duncan on Wednesday visited the Hug Me Tight Child Life Center in the Hill District, where he kicked off a $250 million preschool development federal grant competition, of which Pennsylvania could win as much as $20 million for one year. Mr. Duncan hopes such a grant would be renewable for four years, but the additional funding has yet to be allocated.

Mr. Duncan made his remarks while standing with Mayor Bill Peduto, public schools superintendent Linda Lane and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. When Mr. Peduto met with President Barack Obama in December, he asked the president to consider making Pittsburgh a laboratory for early childhood education initiatives, including universal pre-kindergarten.

At a community forum on early childhood education at the Hill House following the day care center visit, Mr. Duncan, noting Pittsburgh already has the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program, asked: “What if you have the Baby Promise here? What if every child has access? What if there’s a Promise the whole way through?”

Mr. Peduto believes the city is poised for the opportunity, saying it can become a model for the nation.

Noting the school district has worked in early childhood education for many years, Ms. Lane said, “We believe no one can do a better job than we can.”

Mr. Duncan said that early childhood education is “the most important investment we can make,” too many children are behind when they start kindergarten and the nation can no longer afford to play catch-up.

Mr. Duncan said he came to Pittsburgh because it is affiliated with the National League of Cities and has unmet need for early childhood education.

There are varying estimates as to how many young Pittsburgh children go unserved.

Michelle Figlar, executive director of the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children, said there are 15,602 children younger than 5 in Pittsburgh, 41 percent of whom are served by public funds, not counting early intervention. She said there are about 5,700 children ages 3 and 4, estimating that less than 1,000 are not served but “much more” children are not in high-quality programs.

“We need more quality slots,” she said.

According to a U.S. Department of Education news release, the new grants are intended to help states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico in “building, developing and expanding voluntary, high-quality preschool programs in high-need communities for children from low- and moderate-income families.”

The grants will be administered by both the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services. Applications are due Oct. 14, with awards to be announced in December.

Last year, Pennsylvania won a $51.7 million Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant aimed at improving learning experiences for birth through age 5 and focused on the most at-risk communities.




Education writer Eleanor Chute: or 412-263-1955. First Published August 13, 2014 12:00 AM

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