Senior U.S. Officials will Visit Arkansas to Highlight the Importance of Access to High-Quality Early Learning and the Future Workforce

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John King, senior advisor delegated duties of deputy secretary of education at the U.S. Department of Education and Linda K. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will visit Arkansas on Thursday, Sept. 17 for two events focusing on the importance of investment in early learning and the impact education has in building a strong workforce.

King and Smith will meet with business and community leaders at 8 a.m. CT in Bentonville, Arkansas, for the It Takes a Village to Raise a Child launch event focusing on expanding early childhood education options and the impact on the economy and workforce development in Northwest Arkansas. Steven Williams of PepsiCo will lead a conversation between community leaders, including Lynne Walton of the Walton Family Foundation; Karen Parker of the Walmart Foundation; Sara Lilygren of Tyson Foods, Inc.; and Mike Malone of the Northwest Arkansas Council on their relationship with the Helen R. Walton Children’s Enrichment Center and Early Childhood Initiatives Center and their involvement in early childhood education in the region. King and Smith will discuss developments in early childhood at the national level.

At the White House Summit on Early Education in December 2014, President Obama called on business leaders, philanthropists, elected officials and members of the public to invest in the expansion of early childhood opportunities for children across the country through Invest in US, a public awareness campaign launched in partnership with the First Five Years Fund and its philanthropic partners.

The Helen R. Walton Children’s Enrichment Center is announcing they have raised $12.5 million to rebuild their direct-service center and expand their Early Childhood Initiatives Center, which supports nearly 500 early childhood programs that provide care and education to over 32,000 children in Northwest Arkansas. The funding comes primarily from the Walton Family Foundation, the Walmart Foundation, and Tyson Foods.

King and Smith will also have the opportunity to see the impact of some of the Department’s PreK-12 investments during a visit to Springdale Public Schools sites, starting at 10:15am. CT. The visit to Springdale Early Childhood Center will include classroom visits and a roundtable with Springdale Superintendent Jim Rollins, Springdale faculty and parents of students.

Expanding access to high-quality preschool is critically important to ensuring that every child in America has the opportunity for lifelong success. But despite the evidence showing the importance of early learning, House and Senate committees have authored spending bills that eliminate Preschool Development Grants, a program that is in the middle of building and expanding high-quality preschool in over 200 high-need communities across 18 states that span the geographic and political spectrum. Arkansas was awarded a $15 million Preschool Development Grant this year and has plans to provide high-quality preschool in Springdale and other communities in the state for 13,760 children from low-income families by the end of 2018, if funding is not cut. Springdale Superintendent Jim Rollins and the Assistant Director of Early Childhood Arlene Rose from the Arkansas Department of Education are both expected to join for the visit.