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Vt. wins $37 million for universal pre-school

On Dec. 19 the U.S. Dept. of Education announced that Vermont won a $37 million federal grant for a statewide, pre-kindergarten program at public schools. It was the third round of the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC), a $280 million innovative and competitive state-level grant program that aims to address the needs of America's most vulnerable children through improving early childhood education.
"Vermont is one of six states to receive a federal Race-to-the-Top Early Learning Challenge Grant in the amount of $36.9 million, which will be the largest single investment in early childhood education in Vermont's history," said Gov. Peter Shumlin in a statement.
The other states awarded four-year grants ranging from $37.5 million to $75 million include: Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont. 16 states applied for the awards.
These six states join 14 others (California, Delaware, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington and Wisconsin) which have already received close to $633 million dollars in RTT-ELC grant funding.
Research from economists, social scientists and medical experts shows that comprehensive early childhood development - from birth to age five - yields substantial social and financial returns in higher education attainment, improved health outcomes and economic prosperity. These programs, which are proven to be particularly effective for disadvantaged children and their families are being backed by business leaders, governors and state legislators, as well as 70 percent of voters who support expanded federal early childhood efforts that help states provide quality early learning opportunities to moderate and low income children.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a member of the Senate education committee, worked closely with federal officials and Gov. Peter Shumlin's administration to secure the grant for early childhood education.
Sanders said, "Psychologists tell us that, in terms of human development, the most important years are birth through four years of age. Yet, in terms of early childhood education, our nation does a very inadequate job in making quality pre-kindergarten education available to working families. This major federal grant will significantly improve early childhood education in our state and better prepare our kids for school and the challenges and opportunities of life."
Sanders played a leading role in persuading the Obama administration to reconsider its priorities for granting Race to the Top funds. In private meetings and public hearings, Sanders pressed U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to help Vermont and other rural states that had largely been excluded from the grant program. Most of the funds in the past went to states with big-city schools.
Sen. Patrick Leahy also supported Vermont's application for the award, saying: "An educated Vermont is a prosperous and better Vermont... Vermont has always understood the importance of early childhood education and how effective it can be in helping children break the cycle of poverty."
The four-year grant will help establish an innovative system to serve every child in the state. It will invest in the professional development of teachers and improve health care for children and counseling for their parents.