Early Learning Stakeholder Call
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
February 4, 2014
There is an important champion for the children of this country in Education Secretary Arne Duncan. And he is a great secretary and a great friend.
And the sense of urgency that you hear around this phone call is something I think he brings to this job each and every day. He is tenacious, both with the private sector and with our friends on the Hill, trying to make sure we don’t miss this historic opportunity.
So what we’re doing as most of you know, is working on a birth-to-school agenda with the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services linked together.
I think it’s clearly supported by President Obama, who believes that every child needs to have the tools to succeed in school and, eventually, the workplace.
The President reiterated that call again in his State of the Union. He made sure there are resources available in the recently passed 2014 budget. And I think we’re still working out the details of 2015. But there continues to be a huge emphasis on this area.
I do want to remind folks that in the community we’re talking about, the early childhood community, one of the things that’s making me travel around the country more these days is the open enrollment opportunities for new affordable, quality health insurance options.
What we know is that too many teachers and staff who work with our youngest children not only don’t get paid enough money, but they often don’t have affordable health care.
There is an eight-week opportunity between now and the 31st of March to get that message out and reach out to the parents whose children are in child care or early education centers, and also to the teachers and staff members, knowing that they often are not in fully insured programs.
You can help us between now and the 31st of March to make sure that people visit the Health Insurance Marketplace at HealthCare.gov or use the call center at 1-800-318-2596, or find in-person help in their local community at localhelp.healthcare.gov. This will help provide security to many of our best trained and most talented folks.
At HHS, we’ve been focusing on home visiting, Head Start, Early Head Start, and child care as our pieces of this early childhood puzzle.
So we’re making new investments to develop social, emotional, and educational skills for that youngest generation.
Now we are very focused on the call to have high quality pre-K education available to every 4-year-old. And unfortunately there is no way to do that without some new resources and without congressional involvement and engagement.
As Secretary Duncan said, we see this happening now in states around the country with mayors, with governors -- Republicans and Democrats --with the private sector, and with philanthropic institutions. And we have not at all lost hope that Congress will indeed take this up.
We have seen that we have more than a billion additional dollars for Head Start through the 2014 appropriations bill. And that is a big step forward that will make sure those children will continue in high quality care.
It will allow us to invest $500 million in the President’s Early Head Start child care partnerships, which is a proposal to connect both new and existing Head Start initiatives with local child care centers and family child care providers, bringing the best of the Early Head Start program into settings with far more children and that serve a lot of low-income infants and toddlers.
Those funds will be awarded competitively through the Early Head Start grant process. Any agency eligible to apply for Early Head Start funds can also apply for partnership competition grants. That includes tribes and territories, community organizations, nonprofit organizations, for-profit organizations, and state and local governments.
The appropriations bill also increases the Child Care and Development Block Grant by $154 million.
That not only fully restores the sequestration cuts, but also provides a slight increase. And with that investment, the total block grant funding has been brought to $5.25 billion.
So we are seeing not enough progress on this front, but certainly we’re making advances along the way.
And then as Secretary Duncan has already mentioned, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services are going to jointly administer the additional $250 million of Race to the Top funding.
So your continued advocacy help and support have already paid dividends in making sure that these early learning programs from birth through school have resources, have additional slots, have quality measures, and move forward.
And we just look forward to continuing to work with you as we look toward the big opportunity for universal pre-K.
If you have the capacity to provide high-quality infant and toddler care, we hope you’ll consider applying for partnership grants.
If you have expertise in infant and childhood care and/or Early Head Start, we hope you would step forward and consider being a reviewer, because we need hundreds of reviewers to make sure that we panel grant applications and get the best possible program.
And finally, if you have expertise in training, philanthropy, or other relevant disciplines or if you’re able to offer in-kind services, we hope you’ll take a look at the high-quality providers in your community and help them access the funds.
What we know is that sometimes the most talented people who work with our children and families aren’t necessarily the best grant writers, and may not necessarily be able to access these funds.
But you have those skills. And having some wrap-around help, so we make sure that the best possible quality programs actually can expand and grow, and we take advantage of their expertise, would be terrific.
So again, thank you for what you’re doing. Secretary Duncan and I look forward to continuing this huge momentum. This is actually a grassroots effort. It is starting in communities across this country. And eventually the tsunami will hit Washington, and we want to be here to take advantage of that.
I look forward to working with all of you.