The Trustees of the Sixpence Early Learning Fund announced a new grant opportunity this week that will, for the first time, offer funding to collaborations between school districts and licensed child care providers. The new grants will put high-quality early learning experiences within the reach of more of Nebraska’s infants and toddlers at risk, and represent a significant new strategy in Sixpence’s efforts to narrow the achievement gap before children enter kindergarten.
Nearly 30,000 infants and toddlers in Nebraska face risk factors that can increase their likelihood of entering the K-12 system one to two developmental years behind their more advantaged peers. This requires school districts to commit additional fiscal and professional resources to help these children keep pace in Nebraska’s classrooms, but often with mixed results. Consequently, many districts are seeking ways to become more actively involved in promoting high-quality early learning opportunities for children at risk in their communities. These efforts, however, have been undercut by a lack of qualified early childhood personnel, as well as limited facilities and funding. Administrative barriers also prevent school districts from offering the full-day, year-round services to families with very young children.
The new Sixpence grants successfully address these challenges by connecting licensed child care providers to school districts’ early education efforts. The grants are the outcome of the passage of LB547 in the Nebraska Unicameral this spring, which addressed technical restrictions that have previously prevented licensed child care providers from participating directly in Sixpence partnerships. The legislative effort to make this funding opportunity possible was led by Senator Kathy Campbell, Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, and Senator Kate Sullivan, Chair of the Education Committee.
Right now in Nebraska, only about eight percent of our at-risk infants and toddlers have access to early learning opportunities we can verify as meeting the quality standards known to close the achievement gap,” said Amy Bornemeier, Associate Vice President of Early Childhood Programs at Nebraska Children and Families Foundation and administrator of Sixpence. “Schools can’t—and shouldn’t—carry the responsibility all by themselves. By involving local child care providers in Sixpence partnerships, we’re making better use of the early childhood facilities, personnel and resources already available to us in our communities.”
Participation in the new Sixpence grants will give local child care providers access to funding, training and expert consultation designed to help them meet the quality requirements expected of Sixpence programs.
The new grants will also require child care providers to enroll in Nebraska’s rapidly growing Step Up to Quality rating and improvement system. Step Up to Quality, a collaboration between the Nebraska Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services, provides training, opportunities for professional development and coaching for participating child care programs and staff. Step Up to Quality also utilizes rigorous assessments and quantifiable data to improve child care environments, educates parents on how to recognize quality child care settings in their communities and involves them more closely in their children’s early learning experiences.
“By working together, Sixpence and Step Up to Quality make our approach to the early education of our youngest, most vulnerable children more efficient, effective and accountable,” said Bornemeier. “This partnership enables us to maximize our existing resources, gives communities more flexibility to meet the needs of local families and provides a pathway toward a more robust, professionalized early childhood workforce throughout the state. Most importantly, it reinforces the central role of parents in their children’s early education.”
See the Sixpence website for more information and application materials for these new Sixpence grants.