It’s been a few months since California was one of nine states to win a federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) grant to improve early learning systems, particularly for children most in need. So what do we know so far about how these funds may benefit young children in Contra Costa County?

This first thing to note is that it’s not a lot of money. California originally requested $100 million, but received $52.6 million. The Bay Area’s portion of this will be $8.8 million over a four-year period, and Contra Costa will receive about $1.5 million. Despite the reduced funding, the grant is still expected to benefit 65% of children under five in California, or about 1.8 million children.

The grant will primarily fund local Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) designed to evaluate individual early learning programs on common standards such as the learning environment, teacher effectiveness, and parent engagement.

These activities will be conducted in alignment with the California Early Learning Quality Improvement System Advisory Committee’s plan to develop and utilize rating systems to improve the quality of early education.

Just over 70% of the grant will go to 16 regional consortia, each led by an established program already developing a quality rating system. First 5 Contra Costa is the lead agency for Contra Costa County’s effort.  All 16 consortia will focus quality improvement efforts on:

    • Child development and readiness for school
    • Teachers and teaching
    • Program and environment quality

The remainder of the funding will be used by the state for one-time investments in state capacity, such as training for home visitors of the California Home Visiting Program on the program for Infant/Toddler Care, purchase and distribution of Ages and Stages developmental screening tools, enhancement of the Community Care Licensing Division Web site to include education and training materials for parents and providers, and evaluation support for the grant.

Locally, First 5 Contra Costa and our partners the Contra Costa Child Care Council, County Office of Education, and Community Service Bureau have been implementing a child care rating program through Preschool Makes a Difference (PMD) for the last three years.

PMD recognizes and supports high-quality early learning settings and provides scholarships for low-income children to attend preschool. Scholarships can only be used at a recognized high-quality program.

With RTT-ELC funds, we anticipate expanding the quality improvement component of PMD by providing more site quality assessments, training and technical assistance, and professional development opportunities. Our next steps are to meet with local stakeholders, develop an action plan, and to explore the benefits of working on a regional approach with other Bay Area counties implementing RTT-ELC grants.

We will keep you updated as we learn more!

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