Life of Learning
9:32 pm
Wed August 13, 2014

U.S. Education Secretary Talks Early Childhood Education During Stop in Pittsburgh

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talks with children from the Hug Me Tight Childlife Center in the Hill District.
Credit Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Up to $20 million is up for grabs for Pennsylvania, under a new grant competition announced in Pittsburgh. The funds are to be used for expanding access to early-childhood learning programs.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto took part in a tour of the “Hug Me Tight Childlife Center” in the Hill District – along with Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. While in Pittsburgh, Duncan announced that applications for grants are now being accepted.

“It’s a $250 million dollar grant competition across the country,” Duncan said. “We absolutely hope Pennsylvania comes in with a very strong application. It will be competitive, but the need in places like Pittsburgh is significant – but manageable. You can get your arms around it.”

Peduto said there are approximately 10,000 children between the ages of zero and five in the city.

“And about half of them, 5,000, have no access to early childhood education. What that means is that we have a very manageable situation,” said Peduto. “That puts us at a competitive advantage.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto helps kids at the Hug Me Tight Childlife Center with their art projects.
Credit Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Duncan was in Pittsburgh to take part in the first day of a two-day forum on pre-K programs. He said education officials must start looking beyond the K-12 years if the U.S. is to remain globally competitive.

“As hard as we work in K through 12, if we don’t get our babies off to a good start, we’re not going to get there as fast as we need to,” Duncan said, “so we’re working as hard as we can to expand access to early learning opportunities.”

Ensuring all children have access to high-quality pre-K programs, Duncan said, is a critical investment into the future.

“For every single dollar we put in, we as a country get back $7,” he said, “less crime, less dropouts, less teenage pregnancy, less incarceration, more young people graduating from high school, more young people going to college, more young people becoming productive citizens and taxpayers.”

The U.S. Department of Education, National League of Cities and the Peduto administration are hosting the two-day community forum. Pittsburgh is one of 15 cities nationwide receiving support for “community conversations” on education, which are designed to help strengthen partnerships among federal and local governments as well as schools, parents and others.