July 6, 2011

T
he Honorable Arne Duncan                          The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
Secretary                                                        Secretary
U.S. Department of  Education                       U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
400 Maryland Avenue SW                               200 Independence Avenue SW Room 639G
Washington D.C. 20202                                  Washington D.C. 20201

Dear Secretary Duncan and Secretary Sibelius:

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) appreciates the opportunity to provide feedback to the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services regarding the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Fund competition.  State legislators are well aware of the benefits of access to high quality early learning experiences and the impact such programs have on ensuring children come into our schools ready to learn, and appreciate the opportunity to seek new federal resources to support state efforts. 

As your departments consider the structure of this new grant program, NCSL requests that you:

  • Respect state budget processes and ensure state legislative authority to appropriate funds and determine how programs are administered;
  • Recognize that state legislators are a critical link between pools of state and federal funding.  Their participation and oversight can be very helpful in ensuring that early learning programs are well-integrated.    For this reason, their participation on an advisory group that has a say in a state’s application or in the distribution of funds should be strongly encouraged;
  • Allow states the flexibility to decide how best to meet local needs and can provide assistance to a wide range of early learning programs.   Learning experiences for young children occur in a wide variety of settings, in programs delivered by many types of providers;
  • Use federal funding to expand and supplement existing programs;
  • Take into account current state fiscal conditions.  Maintenance of effort requirements may make it difficult for states to take advantage of new federal funds when they face difficult decisions about how to fund all human services and education programs.  This is particularly true if maintenance of effort requirement reflects a point in time when states were able to increase their funding for early care and education programs; and
  • Leave eligibility decisions regarding who is served in early education programs to the states. 
  • Recognize the important role families play in their children’s development and early education.

State legislators have been at the forefront of efforts to create and improve early learning opportunities.  States have maximized the use of the Child Care Development Block Grant and used even more of their own funds to increase the supply, quality, and safety of child care.  States have voluntarily supplemented the federal Head Start program.  States have created their own pre-kindergarten programs.  States have encouraged parental involvement to enhance children’s early learning experience and implemented special initiatives to improve the training and compensation of early learning teachers as well as creating and supporting other programs to enhance early learning.   We look forward to working with you as you implement the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Fund grant competition.  To discuss this further, please contact Lee Posey or  Sheri Steisel in NCSL’s D.C. office at (202) 624-5400.

Sincerely,

The Honorable Mary Jane Wallner                               The Honorable Wes Keller          
New Hampshire House of Representatives                  Alaska House of Representatives
Chair, NCSL Standing Committee on                            Chair, NCSL Standing Committee on   
Human Services and Welfare                                       Human Services and Welfare

 

The Honorable John Goedde                                      The Honorable Roy Takumi                                       
Chair, NCSL Standing Committee on Education          Chair, NCSL Standing Committee on Education
Idaho Senate                                                              Hawaii House of Representatives