Great Start Collaborative gets a kick start

HOUGHTON – The Copper Country Great Start Collaborative will be a beneficiary of a portion of $280 million in federal funding intended to assist in early learning programs for children from birth to 5 years old.

Cathy Benda, CCGSC director, said Michigan will receive $51.7 million in funding from the United States Departments of Education and Health and Human Services.

States had to apply to get the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Grant. Other states getting shares of the $280 million are Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont.

Michigan’s share of the funding will go to the state Office of Great Start in the Department of Education in Lansing, Benda said, which will decide how to distribute it.

“They will be overseeing this project,” she said.

Although exactly how the new funding will be used isn’t certain, yet, Benda said a special emphasis will be given to areas such as the Copper Country.

“There will be a rural initiative,” she said. “That hasn’t been defined, yet.”

Benda said Gov. Rick Snyder has made a priority of improving the ability of children to do well when they enter kindergarten, and this new funding will improve current programs with that goal, or create new programs.

The CCGSC began in 2008, and serves Baraga, Houghton and Keweenaw counties with services needed to promote physical health, social and emotional health, quality care and early learning. Support and leadership for parents are also provided. Collaborative partners include parents, community leaders, business owners, health and human service agencies, and educators.

Benda said improving the lives of young children has been the goal of CCGSC.

“Positive early childhood experiences really support early childhood development and school readiness efforts,” she said.

Michigan’s application for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Grant includes six recommendations to improve children’s lives:

Increase access for children with high needs to high-quality early learning programs.

Increase opportunities for licensed and unlicensed subsidized home care providers to improve the quality of their programs.

Ensure that many more families understand and are meaningfully engaged in their children’s early learning and development.

Involve many more families and providers in efforts to identify and promote children’s physical, social, and emotional health.

Expand education and professional development opportunities, especially for home care providers.

Build an early learning data system that provides anonymous and aggregated information on children allowing us to assess programs’ values to parents and children.

Benda said as part of this effort to improve early childhood experiences, Snyder is looking for a comprehensive coordination of community needs assessments. The governor also wants to make certain there are sufficient quality resource centers for parents, and they are supported well financially. He wants to increase the number of low-income children enrolled in early childhood development programs.

Benda said the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Grant will help CCGSC increase its efforts in early childhood development.

“We see an expansion of opportunities within the collaborative,” she said. “This whole thing is about school success for kids.”