Department of Education Regional Advisory Committees Provide Opportunities for Input

Jun 15, 2011

A string of high profile advocates, from the President to Ben Bernanke to leaders of Fortune 500 companies have highlighted the critical role early education plays in long-term educational success. 

This focus has led to new energy from education agencies,  from the pre-K- 3 movement in local communities, to the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, announced by the Departments of Health  and Human Services and Education earlier this month, to the Department of Education's  latest round of its Investing in Innovation (i3) grant, which will provide a total of $150 million in grants to up to 22 states, with a competitive priority given to those focused on educational strategies for children from birth through third grade.

Advocates and Other Early Childhood Stakeholders Can Help Shape the National Discussion

Now there is another opportunity for early childhood stakeholders to shape the discussion around these efforts, and the supports that will be needed by local community-based programs, schools, and districts to make them successful. Last month, the Department of Education established ten Regional Advisory Committees (RACs) to engage educational leaders and the general public in shaping education policies and related technical assistance. Federal creation of regional advisory committees provides an opportunity for the early childhood field to highlight the importance of high quality early childhood experiences for the youngest and most vulnerable children from birth to kindergarten. This includes supporting quality child care and early education; providing age and developmentally appropriate learning opportunities; carrying out appropriate assessment that considers the development of the whole child; and offering support for early childhood professionals who work with and care for them.

There are ten RACs, appointed by the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and composed of educators, administrators, and other stakeholders from the states in each region. Each RAC includes at least one member who is providing leadership on pre-K education in the region. The advisory committees' purpose is to conduct a regional needs assessment and provide guidance to the Department of Education on how best to support states with federal funding, technical assistance, and policy. The committees will also help inform the development of the Comprehensive Centers technical assistance grant program in 2012. The RACs will report findings to Secretary Duncan by August 1, 2011.

There are several ways early childhood professionals and stakeholders can provide input to the RACs. As RACs conduct their needs assessments, there may be opportunities in each region to respond to surveys or other requests for feedback or information about district and school needs. While these may not specifically ask about education for young children, they may provide an opportunity to integrate early childhood into broader questions about technical assistance for educators and to demonstrate the wide range and reach of high quality early childhood providers at the community level. Second, each RAC has planned two web-based meetings, which are open to the public. Early childhood professionals can register for and participate in these meetings to promote the needs of young children. As part of this effort, the early childhood field can provide information on the early childhood resources available at the community level, identify gaps in funding, and explore partnerships to leverage support for high quality programs.  Finally, individuals can submit comments in writing to the RACs online using data from local needs assessments and strategic planning tools to highlight the opportunities for linkages between child care and early education agencies at the state and local level and education agencies.

As partnerships between child care, early education, and the K-12 world continue to emerge and grow, the RACs offer a unique opportunity for the early childhood field to elevate the needs of young children in a new arena.

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