White House summit brings news of $1 billion for early childhood education

Having hit the usual brick wall with Congress on early childhood education — despite the fact that it appears to be an issue most everyone agrees upon — President Barack Obama today hosts the White House Summit on Early Education which, in the words of the official announcement, is “a convening of prominent business leaders, philanthropists, advocates, elected officials and members of the public committed to the expansion of high-quality early education opportunities for children across the country from birth through school entry.”

The centerpiece of the event, however, will be the announcement of more than $1 billion to help jump start the expansion of high-quality ECE seats across the country.

That program, dubbed “Invest in US,” has drawn support from dozens of donors, who have already committed to contribute nearly $350 million. Another $750 million in federal funding will come from the Preschool Development Grants and Early Head Start-Child Care (EHS-CC) Partnerships.

The announcement arrives as nearly two dozen communities and states have said they’ll make early childhood education a priority. Wisconsin is glaringly absent from the list.

More than 30 states and cities have created already new pre-school or expanded existing pre-school programs since 2013. The most high-profile was New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s massive push to create tens of thousands of seats in time for the first day of school in September in that city.

Dozens of advocacy groups around the country have signed on, including the First Five Years Fund, which is an establishing partner of Invest in US.

“These champions of early childhood education are contributing toward new efforts across the country that will bring more children a critical opportunity for success in school and in life,” said Kris Perry, the executive director of the First Five Years Fund, in a statement.

“But there’s still too many children in America that enter school not ready to learn, including more than half of disadvantaged children. That’s why government at all levels, business leaders, philanthropy and the early childhood community must come together and continue to make investments that give all kids a strong start. That’s what Invest in US is all about.”

Among the many donors are The LEGO Foundation, UPS, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, George Kaiser Family Foundation, Scholastic, William Penn Foundation, The Commonweal Foundation, Grand Victoria Foundation, The Walt Disney Company, PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and others.

“For more than a decade, the Pritzker Children’s Initiative has worked to give the country’s most vulnerable children from birth to age 3 and their families high quality early childhood development opportunities. We believe it is critical to significantly expand that support,” said J.B. Pritzker, whose family foundation has increased its previously-made commitment by $25 million over five years.

“The Invest in US challenge will advance the availability of high-quality evidence-based early childhood programs and research from birth to age five, leading to higher achievement, better health, a skilled workforce, increased wages and reduced social spending.”

Notably absent is perhaps the biggest funder of the movement to privatize public schools, the Sam Walton Foundation. Also missing are Milwaukee foundations, which, in combination with the deafening silence from Madison, suggests Wisconsin will again miss out on a big opportunity to take a step forward.

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