Milwaukee Nonprofits Receive $13M From Head Start To Fund Early Childhood Education

Money Will Serve More Than 1.2K Children Living In Poverty

Daniel O'Donnell looks on as William Hayden sends large blocks flying at the Creative Kids Learning Center
Daniel O’Donnell, left, looks on as William Hayden sends large blocks flying at the Creative Kids Learning Center, a school that focuses on pre-kindergarten for 4- and 5-year-olds, in Seattle. Elaine Thompson/AP Photo

Two Milwaukee organizations will receive more than $13 million to fund early childhood education programs that will serve more than 1,200 infants and toddlers living in poverty.

Next Door and the United Community Center (UCC) will be the recipients of the funds from the federal Office of Head Start. The announcement was made Thursday at the Milwaukee Public Library.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said the funding will be a “transformative community asset, preparing children for kindergarten and supporting families through these critical years in their children’s lives.”

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“This allows us to continue our early childhood initiatives for Milwaukee, putting our youngest residents first,” Barrett said in a written statement.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett speaks at a press conference at the Milwaukee Public Library on Thursday, June 27, 2019, about Milwaukee receiving more than $13 million to fund early childhood education programs. Corrinne Hess/WPR

Next Door will serve a total of 749 children: 629 Head Start students, ages 3 to 5, and 120 Early Head Start students, ages 6 weeks to 3 years.

Quamale Stanton’s children, Kareema Stanton, 4, and Quamale Stanton Jr., 3, have been in the Head Start program at Next Door for about a year. He went through the program himself as a child and knew how valuable it could be. So far, he has seen amazing improvement in both of his children.

“I wanted my kids to have the best and it was a no brainer for me,” Stanton said. “It is a literal head start for the kids.”

Next Door currently serves more than 1,400 children with two locations and 11 partnership sites in Milwaukee’s central city.

“This investment in children in our community is critically important in building a stronger future for Milwaukee,” Next Door President Dr. Tracey Sparrow said in a written statement. “Support of high-quality early childhood education will help prepare children for success in school and begin to close the achievement gap for children living in poverty.”

The UCC will serve a total of 510 children. UCC provides programs to Hispanics and near South Side Milwaukee residents ranging in age from 6 weeks old to college-aged.

Over the last decade, college acceptance and enrollment rates for UCC alumni has risen from 8 percent to 96 percent, according to the school.

“We are thrilled to see the investment in early childhood education in Milwaukee that will fuel change and lay the foundation for success in at-risk communities across Milwaukee,” Ricardo Díaz, UCC executive director, said in a written statement. “This is an exciting step forward to ensure every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, is given the opportunity to succeed.”

Diaz recently spoke to the mother of a former student named Sergio who enrolled at UCC in first grade and recently graduated from Marquette University High School in Milwaukee. He will be going to Harvard University in the fall with a full scholarship.

“What’s really important to the families we serve is education because it’s something that no one can take away from you,” Diaz said. “It gives you a ticket to open up doors to the world.”

Research shows more than 90 percent of a child’s brain development occurs in the first five years. High quality early childhood programs provide critical support during a child’s most important developmental years.

According to the most recent State of Preschool report by the National Institute of Early Education Research, Wisconsin received $121 million in federal funding for Early Head Start and Head Start programs in 2014-2015.

Nationwide, state-funded preschool served about 1.6 million children during the 2017-2018 school year, according to the report. The vast majority, 85 percent, were 4-year-olds.

In Wisconsin, 68 percent of 4-year-olds were in state-funded pre-schools last year. Only 1 percent of 3-year-olds were in pre-school, according to the report.