Early childhood education the focus at Delaware conference

 Linda Smith, Deputy Assistance Secretary and Inter-Departmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Servcies, addresses the Governor's  Birth to 8 Summit. (Avi Wolfman-Arent, Newsworks/WHYY)

Linda Smith, Deputy Assistance Secretary and Inter-Departmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Servcies, addresses the Governor's Birth to 8 Summit. (Avi Wolfman-Arent, Newsworks/WHYY)

Early childhood education practitioners and advocates gathered in Dover Wednesday for the Governor’s Birth to 8 Summit.

It was a chance to talk shop, swap best practices, and consult experts. It was also an opportunity for Governor Jack Markell to personally stump for one of his budget priorities.

Markell requested $18.2 million for early childhood initiatives in his fiscal year 2017 budget, a $11.3 million increase from what the legislature allotted in fiscal year 2016. No other item in the general fund is slated to receive such a large increase over last year, according to the Governor’s office. Markell wants to use the money to strengthen the state’s rating system for early childhood care centers and bolster professional development for early childhood educators.

In remarks to the conference, Markell echoed familiar themes, calling early childhood education the “best investment a state can make.” He argued, as he has in the past, that money spent educating young children will save the state in prison costs and social services down the line.

“Either we can pay lip service to the necessity of these investments or we can make it real,” Markell said.

Markell also paraded his accomplishments in early childhood education. In the last five years, he said, the number of low-income children in Delaware’s highest quality childhood education programs has climbed from 5 percent to 59 percent. From 2012 to 2015, the number of programs assigned a five-star rating through the Delaware Stars rating system has  quintupled—from 24 to 127.

“What I know is that we have made great progress, enormous progress. And I am appreciative,” Markell said.

Conference attendees also heard from Delaware Secretary of Education Steven Godowsky, Harry Williams, president of Delaware State University, and Linda Smith, an official from the the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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