Kentucky receives $44 million early childhood education grant


Kentucky’s new $44.3 million Race to the Top grant will jump-start learning, support parents and improve early learning programs for thousands of Kentucky preschoolers, according to Gov. Steve Beshear.

The White House announced Thursday that Kentucky is among the six winners of a Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) grant to support early learning and development reform agendas. The winning states, which will receive a combined $280 million, must show a willingness to carry out sweeping improvements to programs focused on children from birth to age 5.

“This $44 million grant represents one of the largest single investments in Kentucky’s students – and it’s targeted specifically to our youngest students, who will carry the positive impact of these programs throughout their school careers,” said Gov. Beshear. “This is an unprecedented opportunity to make the large-scale improvements in early childhood education that we have long known are critical to student success, but have always been shelved because of lack of funding. Make no mistake – we cannot underestimate the good that will come from this grant in the years to come.”

“Quality early childhood education can mean the difference between success and failure for

kids – especially those from low-income families,” said Education Commissioner Terry Holliday. “Better preparing young children for school has positive long-term effects on school achievement, whether a student is retained or placed in special education and ultimately whether he or she graduates from high school ready for college and career.”

“With this grant, Kentucky will be able to make much-needed investments in early learning, which will allow the Commonwealth to build upon the successes of Toyota born learning academies and the work that has been done to align our early learning standards throughout the child care and education systems,” said Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Audrey Tayse Haynes. “These investments, coupled with other major improvements like expanded Medicaid, kynect, and prevention and early intervention for behavioral health needs, provide the potential for our youngest Kentuckians to become our smartest and healthiest generation yet.”

“I firmly believe that when we invest in Kentucky’s children, we are investing in Kentucky’s future,” said Sen. Mike Wilson, of Bowling Green. “This funding will give children an opportunity to jump-start learning at an early age, which is proven to give them a better long-term academic achievement. I’m excited to watch the impact these funds will have on our children and our Commonwealth.”

“This is a great opportunity for the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” said Rep. Derrick Graham, of Frankfort. “Once again, this shows Kentucky is moving forward as one of the leaders in education reform and this gives us greater opportunities to invest more in the area of early childhood education. I want to commend Gov. Beshear, First Lady Jane Beshear and Commissioner Holliday for being strong advocates for early childhood development and making it a major element of Kentucky’s continued education reform movement.”

Investing in quality early childhood education offers substantial benefits for both students and communities for years. Experts say that every dollar spent on preschool and early childhood education programs carries a return on investment ranging from $2 to $17.

The PEW Center on the States found that the positive effect of high-quality preschool “generates significant savings because children need fewer higher-priced interventions such as special education and grade retention.” High-quality early childhood education increases the likelihood of graduating from high school – one study found that dropout rates were reduced by 25 percent.

According to the Prichard Committee, children who attend high-quality preschool are more likely to be employed and have higher earnings as adults. In addition, the Committee for Economic Development (CED), a national nonprofit, nonpartisan business-led public policy organization, found that participants in one long-term preschool study “performed better on other indicators of economic stability, such as owning a home, owning a car, maintaining a savings account, and being financially independent.”

In October, Kentucky submitted a more than 1,000-page grant proposal, outlining the Kentucky All-STARS plan (Accelerating learning Statewide Through an Advanced Rating System). Kentucky’s plan was among 17 entries submitted for the Race to the Top funds.

Kentucky All-STARS includes four main components:

  • Expanded quality rating system for all public and private early learning programs. Public and private preschools and learning programs can join a voluntary quality rating system, but only about 40 percent of providers currently participate.  All-STARS will require all early childhood education programs to participate in the quality rating system by 2017, while also encouraging annual improvement. The new mandatory system, STARS, will also require programs to display their STARS rating so parents and guardians can choose an early childhood program based on quality standards.
  •  Supports for families. All-STARS will promote two family engagement strategies to help all families with young children support the child’s early development. Local partnerships are an important component of this effort – helping parents access help they need for a variety of issues – such as child care, learning intervention or others. All-STARS will also expand the Toyota born learning Academies, which are parent-friendly workshops for low-income families held at local elementary schools. These Academies help families learn how to prepare young children for kindergarten, while forming relationships with the school and administration to smooth the transition from home to classroom. These Academies will expand to 150 or more schools within four years.
  • A responsive professional development system. High-quality teachers directly impact student development progress. All-STARS will use the new rating system for preschools and early learning programs to facilitate professional development for early childhood teachers.
  • Improved and linked data systems. Sharing community data on early childhood education will help communities and agencies develop strategies for improving services to young children and their families. All STARS will integrate data from multiple partners, which will eventually allow partners to evaluate successes or concerns at an early stage.

Too often children start out behind and never catch up. This RTTT grant will expand the work Kentucky has already accomplished to prepare children for school and life. Early childhood education has long been a focus of Gov. Beshear’s administration. Two years ago, Gov. Beshear formed the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood (GOEC), an executive-level division dedicated to policies and practices for early childhood and development.

“Every child deserves access to high-quality early learning programs. This grant will help us support families by giving them an objective way to decide which program is best for their child,” said GOEC Executive Director Terry Tolan. “These steps will help assure that every child arrives at kindergarten ready to learn and succeed.”


  1. I believe preschool should be open to everyone. I also think it is very important to tweak kindergarten. It should be a all day funded program. With higher standards implemented, an all program is needed to ensure students have the time to learn the concepts.

  2. Requiring licensed childcare centers and certified in-home family childcare centers to participate in the quality rating system does not address the numerous homes where unregulated care takes place. Part of the reason my wife closed her in-home center was because of the onerous requirements of the state, which piles on more and more rules for those who “play by the rules” but does nothing about those who refuse to register, certify, or license their childcare operations to begin with. When our local law enforcement officers take their own children to unregulated centers, I see little hope that more regulations will improve the situation. It will simply continue to drive good providers out of the field. Overregulation does not improve quality; I fear it will have the opposite effect.

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