A $36.9 million federal grant will set the foundation for low-income and high-needs children — especially the youngest — to succeed in school, said Gov. Peter Shumlin at a news conference Monday at the Statehouse. He was joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and a representative from the office of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
“As you know, early childhood education is extraordinarily important to ensuring that every child in this great state has a strong start and a bright future,” Shumlin said.
The federal Early Learning Race to the Top grant is designed to provide early education to low-income children, he said.
“Where we fail is moving more low-income kids beyond high school,” Shumlin said. “We do that primarily because they do not get a strong start. They don’t have the opportunity to get a strong start.”
Sanders, who serves on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, said the nation lags in supporting children during their most important phase of development, from birth to age 4.
“And the truth of the matter is, that as a nation, we are not doing well in this state and throughout this country,” Sanders said. “There are millions of working families that are desperately in search of high quality, affordable, early childhood education.”
He said previous grants have gone to heavily populated states.
“It seemed to me that rural states like Vermont were not getting their fair share,” Sanders said. “And I made that concern very strongly to Secretary of Education [Arne] Duncan, both publicly and privately, to make the case that ‘Yes, we understand that urban America has it problems, so does rural America, we wanted our fair share.’ And that happened.”
The four-year grant was first announced on Friday during a news conference on colleges participating in the state’s “flexible pathways” program for high school seniors to enroll in college.
The combined $280 million federal grant will be shared by Vermont, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The grant is issued by the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which set strict parameters for how the funds are used. Final budgets from winning states are due in March, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
According to the news release, the grant will likely fund:
• $6.4 million for after-school programs, local food hubs, transportation grants, community centers, and similar efforts designed to improve nutrition, support families, and increase access to early education;
• $3.5 million to provide annual financial awards for the Vermont Step Ahead Recognition System programs, or STARS, for high-quality early childhood programs and additional awards to provide nutritional food to children in the programs;
• $1.5 million for T.E.A.C.H. Scholarships for early childhood educators to receive degrees or advance education;
• $1.3 million to train and support early childhood educators to meet health, nutrition and physical activity needs of all children;
• other programs include finalizing standards for early education care statewide, expanding training, screening young children, and ensuring appropriate services are available for children and families in need.
The grant will not pay for early educators’ wages, Shumlin said.
“What it [the grant] doesn’t do is do anything about the disparity in pay between early educators and teachers in our schools,” Shumlin said. “So, what collective bargaining should do is give them a collective voice to be able to fight for fairer wages in a system that is frankly underpaying.”
Legislation that would give early educators collective bargaining ability, S.52, was introduced last session.
“The reason collective bargaining rights are important,” Shumlin said, “is that right now there’s a huge disparity between the pay for a teacher who is a doing an extraordinary job educating Vermont’s kids and someone who chooses, instead, to be a teacher of early childhood education.”