Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

June 18, 2013

Secretary of Education coming to Louisville

Sec. Duncan to discuss early childhood development

Ronnie Ellis


U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will visit a Louisville early childhood development center Thursday morning.

Duncan will be at St. Benedict Center of Early Childhood Development on 25th Street in the California neighborhood of Louisville Thursday morning and then participate in a discussion about early childhood development issues.

President Barack Obama proposed in his State of the Union address earlier this year a $75 million expansion of early childcare development programs over the next 10 years. Kentucky’s Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear has also made early childhood development and education a priority.

In an April interview with Education Week, Duncan said the time has come for a sweeping expansion of early childhood programs and said he hopes to get as many states on board with the proposal as possible.

Details of the visit hadn’t been publicly released as of Tuesday afternoon, but CNHI News confirmed the visit with several sources.

Stu Silberman, Executive Director of the Prichard Committee on Academic Excellence, said Duncan will be in Louisville to visit “one of the local child care centers, but I don’t think they have released the details yet.”

Kentucky Education Commissioner Dr. Terry Holliday and Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Franklin, the chairman of the House Education Committee, also confirmed the visit.

The website for the U.S. Department of Education also lists the visit on Duncan’s weekly schedule. Thursday’s stop in Louisville will be one of three that day to promote “the President’s plan to expand early learning opportunities to more children.”

He will later travel that day to Middletown and Cincinnati Ohio.

Alissa Mwemelupembe, Director of St. Benedict, said she hasn’t seen a complete agenda. But she said Duncan will visit classrooms at the center around 10 a.m. and meet with children before joining a roundtable discussion next door at the Brandeis Apartments on early childhood development issues.

She said she and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer were part of the roundtable but she hasn’t seen an entire list of participants yet.

Terry Tolan, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, confirmed she will facilitate the discussion but she also hadn’t seen a list of participants.

St. Benedict offers child care for children from birth to 5 years of age and before and after school programs for children up to 12 years of age Mwemelupembe said.

Her staff is made up of mostly degreed instructors and teachers, some with Masters Degrees and some of whom have worked at the center for 25 years.

"We’re really working to build a foundation that school services can then build on,” she said.

The center was founded by a nun and originally located at St. Benedict’s Church but now occupies its own building and lot nearby. It receives funding from Metro United Way and many parents receive child care subsidies from the state.

But those state funds, Mwemelupembe lamented, “are on the chopping block right now,” as Beshear’s administration plans to cut about $66 million in Kinship Care and the Child Care Assistance Program – CCAP – funding.

The CCAP cuts will be a hard hit for many St. Benedict parents. Mwemelupembe said about 80 percent of her clients receive state subsidies. Another 10 percent are on scholarship – paid for through United Way funding – and the rest are mostly children of the center’s staff.

St. Benedict also is one of five childcare centers participating in a Metro United Way project called Excellent Academy which will track and compare school performance of children who attended the quality childcare programs with other children from the same neighborhoods.

That data isn’t available yet, but Mwemelupembe said, “Traditionally, all of our children are ready for school and they all perform well on standardized tests when they get to school.”

Mwemelupembe said it’s shortsighted for government and policy makers to cut funding for early childhood development.

"We really need the support of governments both at the state and federal levels, because what we’re investing in is our children and also our long-term outlook for jobs and our economy and that benefits everyone,” she said. “High quality child development is important.”

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.