Bennet, Boxer, Menendez, Reed Praise Administration Decision to Consider English Language Learning When Awarding Educational Grants

Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Offers Opportunity to Invest in Early Language Development

Denver, CO – U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Jack Reed (D-RI) today praised Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius for agreeing to consider the needs of English language learning (ELL) students when awarding grants as part of the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge program.

Senators Bennet, Boxer, Menendez and Reed sent a letter to Secretaries Duncan and Sebelius in July urging them to include instruction of young English language learning students as part of the Early Learning Challenge program. Studies have shown that the years before a child enters kindergarten are crucial for cognitive development and language skills.

“We need to prepare English language learners – and all students – at an early age to succeed in school and farther down the road,” said Senator Bennet. “Early education is important for every student, and I’m glad the Early Learning Challenge program will now specifically consider the needs of English language learning students.”

Senator Boxer said, “I am so pleased that Secretaries Duncan and Sebelius are taking this step to recognize the importance of English language learning to the success of students throughout their lives. By helping students acquire these language skills in the early years, we will ensure they have the opportunity to thrive in school and reach their full potential.”

“I am thrilled our Administration has recognized the importance of early English language learning in the Early Learning Challenge Program,” Senator Robert Menendez said. “The early years in a child’s development are crucial in the acquisition of cognitive skills and we need to ensure they have the foundation they need to fully develop the language and literacy skills that will allow them to reach their full potential. This will help ensure all of our children, regardless of their socio-economic background, can aim for the American Dream and America can continue leading in the 21st Century.”

“As the number of English language learners continues to grow in Rhode Island and across the country, our future competitiveness depends upon how effective our schools are in helping these students gain fluency and achieve academically. I am pleased the Administration recognizes the importance of helping English language learners at a young age,” said Senator Jack Reed.

There are over five million ELL students in the United States, including more than 115,000 in Colorado. Including English language instruction in the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge will provide crucial services to children of low-income families for whom English is not their first language.

Furthermore, equipping young ELL students with the right tools before entering school will help improve their academic progress and strengthen our economy through a better educated workforce.

The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grant program is intended to reward states that create comprehensive plans to transform early learning systems with better coordination, clearer standards and improved workforce development.