11 regions in the running for $1 million for early childhood care

Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) is narrowing down its search for places to create four, multi-county Early Education Empowerment Zones, which will receive more than $1 million to improve services and childcare options from birth to 5-years-old.

DECAL is currently visiting the 11 prospective regions to determine where to start the empowerment zones. Potential zones include regions around Statesboro, Albany, Macon, Sandersville, Dalton and Valdosta. The grants will be partially funded from a $15.7 million federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant that the state won last December.

Kristin Bernhard, deputy commissioner for system reform for DECAL, oversees the grant, and said factors such as third-grade reading scores, poverty levels, premature birth rates and rates of births to women without high school diplomas will play a role in determining the four zones. Bernhard said that while 11 regions are being looked at, the grant only allows for four, and the regions with strong community partnerships that are likely to make the empowerment zones a success have a better chance of being chosen.

DECAL will continue to conduct site visits through August, and plans to select the four zones early September.

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