The expansion of early-childhood education was described by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as an unavoidable outcome, rather than just a goal, in his speech to a receptive group of governors gathered for the National Governors Association’s winter meeting. Mr. Duncan expressed that this is a movement that everyone should be at the forefront of, instead of lagging behind. The speech took place at the JW Marriott hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, close to both the Capitol and the White House, in front of the association’s education and workforce committee. This meeting, which occurred from February 21-24, included a visit to the White House, where President Barack Obama, who has made early-childhood education a priority in his budget and policies, jokingly mentioned that he observed some of the state leaders sizing up the curtains and each other for potential future ambitions.
Mr. Duncan’s presentation to the governors comes at a time when many states and cities are already taking steps to advance early education. For instance, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a member of the Democratic Party, is urging lawmakers to allow the city to impose taxes on high-earning residents to fund preschool. Additionally, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat, has released a plan to expand preschool programs in the state. Republican Governors Rick Snyder of Michigan and Robert Bentley of Alabama are also among the state leaders advocating for increased funding for early education in their respective states. One of Mr. Duncan’s reasons for considering the expansion of pre-K to be inevitable is the growing support for such efforts from a wide range of stakeholders, including business leaders, law enforcement officials, parents, and school officials. Furthermore, kindergarten-readiness assessments have revealed that many children are falling behind their peers when they begin school. Lastly, he highlighted the significant and ongoing need for early-childhood programs.
During the meeting, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, a Republican, inquired about the latest round of federal Race to the Top funding, which is aimed at supporting early education. The budget bill passed earlier this year allocated $250 million for this program, and in previous rounds, approximately $1 billion was distributed among 20 states. Despite applying twice, Nevada’s proposal, titled "Silver State Strong," has not been selected as a winner. Secretary Duncan explained that the program would continue to invest in states within the zero-to-5 age group, but did not provide many details, likely because his department and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are still working on finalizing the specifics of the new competition. The first Race to the Top competition focused on early learning provided $500 million to nine states in 2011, while the second round in 2012 divided $133 million among five states. In 2013, the third round awarded $280 million to six states. However, the U.S. Department of Education has stated that the new grant program will be distinct from previous ones and has sought online input on how to structure the $250 million program. Advocates of Montessori education have expressed their support for this initiative. The NGA’s winter meeting also discussed topics related to education and career training, with Jeffrey M. Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, addressing the state leaders on February 22 about job training.