Julie Cadwallader Staub is Grant Director of Vermont’s Early Learning Challenge. She has a long history of supporting children and families in Vermont as founding Executive Director of both the Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger (aka Hunger Free Vermont) and the Child Care Fund of Vermont. Most recently she served as Grant Director at the Burlington School District.

Carolyn Wesley is Project Manager of the Early Learning Challenge grant. She previously served as Director of Constituent Services in the Office of Governor Peter Shumlin.

Vermont’s Early Learning Challenge Grant: Bringing our Early Childhood Action Plan to Life

As more and more Vermonters learn about the importance of early childhood, leaders at the state and community level have been working together to make sure that policies and plans are in place to support young children and families. One important step in this effort was the creation of Vermont’s Early Childhood Framework and Action Plan in 2013. Stakeholders from across Vermont’s early childhood community came together to outline what it would take for every Vermont child to thrive.

With its Framework and Action Plan in mind, Vermont applied for a Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant, and, in January 2014, received $36.9 million from the federal government to build a high-quality and accessible early childhood system in the state so that all young children will be ready to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

The goals of the Early Learning Challenge grant are aligned with the goals of the Action Plan: 

  • Improve the quality of, and access to, early learning experiences
  • Provide a healthy start for all children
  • Engage families and communities as leaders in early childhood work
  • Use data to drive decisions in early childhood policy
  • Create a coordinated and sustainable early childhood system

The grant works toward these goals by funding twenty-four specific projects, each of which is also an activity of the Early Childhood Action Plan.

Though the Early Learning Challenge grant is a systems-level grant, some of its projects offer direct support to families and early childhood professionals. These include:

  • A statewide phone line hosted by Vermont 2-1-1 to answer parent and caregiver questions about children’s development and behavior, and connect them to resources in their communities.
  • A family guide to the newly revised VT Early Learning Standards to help inform and educate parents about children’s learning and development from birth through Grade 3.
  • High-quality, evidenced-based home visiting services to pregnant women and young children to help promote health and support parents as their children’s first teachers.
  • $3.6 million in awards to early childhood programs for improving or maintaining their quality level in STARS, Vermont’s system for rating quality in early learning programs.
  • Free college courses and formal on-the-job mentoring to early childhood professionals across the state through the expanded VT Child Care Apprenticeship.
  • $900,000 in scholarships for early childhood professionals wishing to pursue an associate’s degree through the T.E.A.C.H. initiative.

These are just a sampling of efforts funded by the grant. Other projects include independent evaluations of Vermont’s existing early childhood policies and programs, like the Kindergarten Readiness Survey and STARS, to make sure they are effective and impactful. The grant also helps strengthen early childhood infrastructure by funding twelve regional Building Bright Futures councils to bring together local leaders to discuss the early childhood issues and opportunities in their communities.

All of these activities make significant progress in our collective effort to support all young children and families. Through the work of its partners, the grant enables Vermont to rapidly advance the larger reform agenda of the Early Childhood Action Plan, in order to realize the promise of every child.  

For information on the grant, click here or contact Grant Director Julie Cadwallader Staub at Julie.cadwallader-staub@vermont.gov. Look for more information on specific grant projects in future newsletters from Let’s Grow Kids.

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