United Way of Greater Atlanta convened a group of Clayton and Spalding county representatives at Clayton State University last week to campaign for $51.7 million in grant funding from the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (ELC) grant program.
Jointly administered by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant provides funding for states to create an early learning agenda that builds and strengthens current early learning and development systems. In December 2013, Georgia was named a winner in the third round of applications. The state will receive $51.7 million over the four-year grant period, through the administration of Georgia’s Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL).
The DECAL staff created 11 potential zones across the state, based on quantitative data that show where the highest achievement gaps are, and will award the funds to four zone finalists. Attendees at the Clayton State meeting came to share their views and shape what the Clayton/Spalding zone would look like, if the funds are won. DECAL’s decision on the ELC grant will be made in October 2014.
According to Sakinah Harrison, United Way of Greater Atlanta’s senior director of education, “the community gets to help shape how the money will be spent and to support the needs of the community.”
As an example, Harrison notes that a community might decide to build an early learning child care center from the ground up or build a partnership with a local library and support the purchase of books and educational materials for young children.
With this ELC grant, the four chosen zones will be given funding to help establish rising summer Pre-K classrooms, home visiting programs, and enhanced child care subsidy payments for families that cannot afford to pay for high-quality early learning programs.
According to DECAL, the ELC grant will help support young children and their families — many of whom are the working poor — in closing the achievement gaps. Instead of playing catch up with funding toward higher education, this time Georgia residents are attacking at the base.
A variety of representatives were active at the Clayton/Spalding gathering to show their enthusiasm. Attendees at the meeting agreed that all of the primary and secondary qualifications seemed to be met, and much more.
Grant Wainscott, director of Economic Development for Clayton County, represented the businesses and spoke about the great opportunity that the counties have for future jobs.
Alpha Bryan, public health director of Clayton County, represented the health and well-being and spoke on how successful employment leads to health insurance. Through the economic improvements that educational enhancements would provide, this zone would have a healthier community, she said.
With all these foundations set for the Clayton/Spalding zone, all that is needed is the boost of funds to allow the achievement gap to be filled.
Clayton State Professor of Psychology Dr. Antoinette Miller, who attended the meeting in her role as director of Clayton State’s Partnering Academics and Community Engagement (PACE) initiative, noted that she was heartened by the outpouring of support.
“It was very clear that the people in the room were committed to creating positive educational opportunities for our children at one of the most critical times,” she says. “I am hopeful that the zone, if awarded, will present many opportunities for our campus to make a positive impact by partnering with the community in something that we all value -- education.”
In the words of the Clayton State University President Dr. Thomas Hynes, who welcomed the meeting of community organizers to the university, “You can’t do epic by yourself.”