Tucked away in an $87 billion higher-education bill that passed the House last week was a broad new federal initiative aimed not at benefiting college students, but at raising the quality of the early-learning programs that serve children from birth through age 5, reports the New York Times. The initiative, the Early Learning Challenge Fund, would channel $8 billion over eight years to states with plans to improve standards, training, and oversight of programs serving infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. The Senate is expected to pass similar legislation this fall, giving President Obama, who proposed the Challenge Fund during the presidential campaign, a bill to sign in December. Experts describe the current array of programs serving young children and their families as a hodgepodge of efforts with little coordination or coherence. Oversight varies by state, but most lack any early childhood structure analogous to the state and local boards of education that govern public schools. A result is that poor children tend to enter kindergarten less prepared for school than those with wealthier parents. To qualify for grants, states would have to demonstrate that they have established or improved what the bill calls a "governance structure" for their networks of child-care centers and pre-K programs…

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