the youngest learners

Indiana seeks $10 million federal grant to find gaps in early childhood education

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman/Chalkbeat

Even though Indiana has been increasingly investing in early childhood education, the state still faces big challenges in how it serves its littlest students — and leaders are hoping a federal grant will help change that.

Too many poor children in rural areas, children in foster care, and children ages birth to 3 don’t have access to high-quality preschools, state leaders and early learning advocates fear. Families often don’t understand their choices. Health care and social services agencies often don’t know how to connect families with preschools. Preschool workers often don’t have enough training.

“Sometimes we’re not as knowledgeable as we’d like to be about where those gaps exist for those families,” said Nicole Norvell, director of Indiana’s Office of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning.

To identify and address the gaps, Indiana is applying for a nearly $10 million federal Preschool Development Grant. The plan, submitted to the federal government earlier this month, would cost about $14 million, with help from about $4 million in matching state dollars.

Up to 40 states could receive awards. It’s uncertain when states will hear back about their applications, but it could be as early as the end of December.

The federal grant is specifically aimed at planning and assessing needs, not necessarily for directly funding additional preschool seats. Indiana is proposing to look at how the different pieces of its early childhood landscape fit together, crafting a strategic plan while improving the quality of preschool providers and workers.

“Indiana, like every other state, is struggling to build an effective system of care and education for children birth to 5,” said Maureen Weber, president and CEO of Early Learning Indiana. “I think this grant could go a long way.”

Weber and other early learning advocates are also pushing for Indiana to expand its pre-Kindergarten program, known as On My Way Pre-K. The state invested $22 million this year in vouchers for low-income families to pay for their 4-year-olds to attend high-quality pre-K. The city of Indianapolis, with private partnership dollars, added $40 million over five years to pay for pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families.

“One of our greatest challenges is that too many Hoosiers lack the education and skills for available jobs and the jobs of the future,” Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb wrote in the application. “The opportunity to devise a comprehensive strategic plan that supports the early childhood education system is an integral step to building capacity so that young Hoosiers are prepared for elementary school and beyond.”

Here are some of the areas Indiana plans to address, according to the grant application:

  • Increase opportunities for infants and toddlers.
  • Smooth the transition to kindergarten.
  • Bring together local preschool providers so they can share resources and strategies.
  • Better support foster families seeking child care.
  • Increase family engagement efforts.
  • Improve training to better understand how to work with families who are culturally and linguistically diverse.
  • Train partner agencies on safe sleep, and train child care workers on addressing the needs of children and families who have experienced trauma.
  • Incentivize local and regional agencies to support early childhood programs in their areas.
  • Increase the number of top-quality preschools.

Hope Starts Here

Two foundations announced ‘Hope Starts Here’ to improve the lives of Detroit’s young children. Here’s how they’re spending their money

PHOTO: Nick Hagen

When the ambitious Hope Starts Here initiative kicked off a year ago with the news that two major foundations would spend $50 million to improve the lives of Detroit’s youngest children, much of the coverage focused on what would be shiny and new.

The 10-year early childhood “framework” put forward by the Kresge and W.K. Kellogg foundations called for a significant effort to expand preschool offerings, including new schools and funding streams that would make it possible to create more programs for kids.

The effort called for major policy initiatives, such as a universal screening program that would identify young children with disabilities or developmental delays. It called for a citywide testing program that would measure how ready children are to start kindergarten.

But as the two foundations (which also fund Chalkbeat) have begun to dig in over the last year, their early investments have focused primarily on improving existing programs, rather than just creating new ones.  

“We’ve learned we have to be able walk and chew gum at the same time,” said Khalilah Burt Gaston, the Michigan program officer for Kellogg, which spent more than half of its $25 million commitment in the last year. “While you’re planning and while you’re listening, you have to be able to think about ongoing community engagement.”

The two foundations are talking with Mayor Mike Duggan as he explores the possibility of universal pre-K, meaning free preschool for all city 4-year-olds. An advocacy network of parents and providers is coming together to push for major policy changes at the city, state, and federal levels.  

And there is at least one new facility in the works — an early childhood center on the campus of Marygrove College that will be part of a new Kresge-funded “cradle to career” campus. Plans call for the center, expected to open in 2020, to also help preschools and childcare centers in the neighborhood.

But the first grants by the two foundations under Hope Starts Here have largely focused on schools and programs that already existed.

Tuesday, Kresge plans to announce $2.2 million in grants to nine organizations that are providing arts and cultural programing, mental health services, or fresh and healthy food to preschools around Detroit.

The money, the largest share of the $3.9 million Kresge has put toward Hope Starts Here so far, is to help preschool owners and people who operate child care programs offer better programming. Many providers, whether they charge tuition or get state or federal funding, often struggle to make enough money to provide much more than a basic curriculum, said Wendy Jackson, Kresge’s Detroit program officer.

Kellogg has put the money it’s spent so far on Hope Starts Here into training preschool teachers, improving facilities, and helping low-income families pay for  high quality childcare.

That includes a program that works with preschools to help them improve their standing on a state quality rating system; a scholarship program that gives money to families that don’t meet state or federal requirements for free childcare but need help to afford private tuition; and, a program to renovate 12-14 preschools with what Gaston called “an HGTV-style remodel project.”

Another effort is focused on improving the quality of care offered by in-home providers and family members who are often unlicensed but do the bulk of early child care in communities across the country.

Gaston said the early focus on existing programs emerged from the yearlong listening sessions the two foundations held in 2016 and 2017.

“What we learned listening to parents, to politicians, listening to Lansing, is that people don’t know where quality currently exists in the city and two people may have a different perception about quality in Detroit so we want to make sure that what we currently have is moving the needle toward higher quality,” Gaston said.

Kellogg isn’t just backing preschools. The foundation also announced a $3 million Hope Starts Here grant for the Detroit Public Schools Community District that funds a parent academy, a kindergarten bootcamp and a home visit program that sends educators to children’s homes.

By early next year, the people behind Hope Starts Here plan to launch a website that will track progress on each of its 15 strategies and 26 policy priorities. The online “dashboard” will also track movement on some of the alarming statistics that led to Hope Starts Here in the first place. That includes the city’s alarmingly infant mortality high rate, its high rates of babies with low birth weights and the fact that almost 30,000 young Detroiters have no access to high-quality preschool or child care.

Statistics like that contribute to learning problems later on that partly explain why the vast majority of Detroit third-graders — more than 80 percent — aren’t reading at grade level.

At some point, Hope Starts Here could be managed by a centralized entity. Ideas have included an office connected with city government, or one that would be a freestanding non-profit.

“That’s part of the sorting that needs to occur on this so we get the right kind of structure going forward,” Jackson said, noting that Hope Starts Here is currently run by a “stewardship” board.

“The stewardship board is committed to making sure that there’s a comprehensive and sustainable solutions so they’re’ taking all of that into account,” Jackson said.  

As Hope Starts Here enters its next phase, the foundations behind it say the challenge has been staying focused while staring down a massive to-do list in a city where extreme poverty and intensive need makes the work seem urgent.

“The biggest challenge has been the vastness of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Gaston said. “System building work is not sexy. It’s just not but it’s vitally important for us to have a coordinated, high-quality effective system.”

 

farewell

Head of Denver Preschool Program resigning after more than five years

PHOTO: Eric Lutzens/Denver Post
Jennifer Landrum, president and CEO of the Denver Preschool Program

Jennifer Landrum, who oversaw the Denver Preschool Program for the last five and a half years, announced Friday that she’s leaving for personal reasons.

During Landrum’s tenure, Denver voters increased the sales tax that supports the program, allowing it to cover summer tuition costs and serve more children, and extended it through 2026. Landrum also oversaw the redesign of the tuition credit scale, expanded scholarships and awards for teachers and directors to better support quality improvement efforts, and developed a new strategic plan.

Landrum said she was leaving not for a new job but to take care of herself and her family after experiencing “extreme loss.”

“I need time to pause, reflect and recharge,” she wrote in an email to supporters of the program.

The Denver Preschool Program provides tuition subsidies that scale according to family income and preschool quality for students in the year before they enter kindergarten. The largest subsidies go to the poorest families enrolled in the best preschools. The program also supports quality improvement efforts, including for younger students, part of a broader shift in focus in the early childhood sector. It is funded by a voter-approved 0.15 percent sales tax and has become a model for communities around the state.

“Jennifer has served with vision, boldness, and a constant and deep commitment to improving the lives of Denver’s young children and supporting Denver families,” preschool program board chair Chris Watney wrote in an email. “The board, staff, and community are going to miss her in this role. The board of directors firmly supports Jennifer’s decision and wishes her all the best.”

Deputy Director Ellen Braun will serve as the interim director while the board conducts a search process for a new leader this spring.