Acelero Learning Wisconsin awarded $4.7 million in Early Head Start expansion funds

Acelero Learning Wisconsin has been awarded $4.7 million in funding for a five-year grant in order to add 80 new Early Head Start students to the program, including 56 slots in Milwaukee. The Milwaukee services will be provided by two child care partners and at Acelero’s existing Capitol Drive location. The Acelero Learning Wisconsin (ALW) delegate program operates eight Head Start centers in Milwaukee County and four in Racine County, serving many of the highest need communities in the state of Wisconsin.  Prior to this expansion, the organization now serves 615 Head Start children and 112 Early Head Start children in Milwaukee, and an additional 553 Head Start children and 24 Early Head Start children in Racine. As ALW staff work with low income families in these communities, they experience daily that the need for high quality infant and toddler care is overwhelming.  In comparison, four year old children in Milwaukee and Racine have access to universal Pre-K; three year children have access to more than 4,500 collective Head Start slots; but for all but a few hundred families in Milwaukee, parents of low income infants and toddlers only have access to child care subsidy, which does not provide enough funding for services to meet Early Head Start quality standards.

The shortage of high-quality early childhood services is particularly vexing for Milwaukee. According to 2010 census data, Milwaukee is the fourth poorest city in America, with more than 28% of its more than 595,000 residents living in poverty. Currently, there are far more income-eligible families for EHS than there are quality programs available to serve them. Based on data from the 2015 census for Acelero’s proposed service areas, more than 2,000 children ages three and under are living below the Federal Poverty Level The only EHS services in this area of Milwaukee are the slots currently provided through Acelero Learning Wisconsin’s existing EHS and EHS-child care partnership grants.

Early Head Start is a vibrant and effective program for infants and toddlers serving more than 147,000 young children across the nation. The program offers comprehensive services to children and families, including early education, family engagement initiatives, health, mental health, nutrition and oral health services. Acelero Learning considers it imperative to meet the growing demand for Early Head Start services and add much-needed supply to the universe of higher quality infant/toddler care in Milwaukee.

In order to support this grant, ALWI has partnered with community partners, leaders, and key partners to expand high-quality Early Head Start services. Senator Tammy Baldwin has praised the coming expansion: “We have a long tradition of supporting early childhood education in Wisconsin, and I’m proud to see this new investment in our youngest Wisconsinites. Head Start and Early Head Start programs make long-lasting differences in the lives of so many families. This grant funding will help Acelero Learning build on their work of putting Wisconsin children on a path to success."

Local and national leaders agreed on the importance of Acelero Learning’s expansion to serve additional low-income children.  “Acelero Learning exemplifies Head Start and Early Head Start's role as the nation's laboratory for early childhood innovation,” said Yasmina Vinci, National Head Start Association (NHSA) Executive Director. “They are problem solvers, they have generated tremendous child outcome gains, and they recognize the need to expand infant and toddler options for low income children.  I am delighted that they will be serving more children through Early Head Start expansion."

The grant includes a partnership with Jo's Early Learning Academy in Milwaukee. This center is known as a high-quality provider in the area and will continue to increase staff credentials and program quality under this new grant. This is particularly important in the Milwaukee area. There are 87 Licensed Groups, Certified Families, and Public Schools providing early childcare in the program’s proposed service area within Milwaukee that are participating in Youngstar, Wisconsin' Quality Rating and Improvement System. YoungStar evaluates and rates the quality of care by child care providers using a five-point rating scale. Of those 87 providers, five are five-star rated. Jo's and Acelero Learning’s sites make up three of the five five-star facilities.

The grant will be supplemented with $394,692 in one-time start-up funds to support the purchase of new classroom supplies and curriculum materials, technology to support planning, assessment, and reflective coaching, needed health screening equipment, and costs related to licensing and required background checks for new staff hired in both Milwaukee and Racine.

The grant was awarded under the leadership of Sarah Barton, Executive Director of the ALW program. “Since opening our first Early Head Start classrooms in Milwaukee in 2015, the demand for space in the program has continued to exceed funded capacity. We are anxious to start serving these infants and toddlers and supporting their families to ensure more children in Milwaukee have access to the world class early education they deserve.”  Ms. Barton has led the ALW program as Executive Director since 2015.

Acelero’s newly expanded program offers a powerful set of services to Early Head Start families, including a unique approach to family engagement that extends classroom learning into the home in fun and age-appropriate ways, as well as a content-rich curriculum specifically designed for infants and toddlers. Acelero Learning programs have been nationally recognized for innovation and excellence, and the Milwaukee expansion will allow the program to bring those services to an even wider network of children and families in the area.

For additional information about this expansion and the Acelero Learning program, please contact Katie Bromberek, Executive Assistant at