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County Executive, United Way, Partner to Expand Early Childhood Zones, Help More Children Succeed in School

October 04, 2013
Casey Slaughter Becker, County Executive's Office (608) 267-8823, or cell (608) 843-8858
County Executive


Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced additional details today on an expanded partnership with the United Way, included in his 2014 budget, that will help more children in challenged neighborhoods succeed in school; as well as a new initiative to prevent homelessness among youth.


The partnership, initiated with the United Way last year, created  an innovative birth to four-year-old kindergarten program, or “Early Childhood Zone,” at Madison’s Leopold Elementary.  The Leopold Zone, operating since January of this year, has achieved early success.


“In partnership with the United Way, these zones will make a direct impact in the lives of kids and parents,” said Parisi.  “Family by family, we are making a difference in the lives of our young people, helping guide them on a path toward life-long success at school and at home.”


Parisi’s $165,000 investment, together with a generous $185,000 contribution from the United Way, will create additional “Early Childhood Zones” in the Verona and Sun Prairie Area School Districts, respectively, to increase efforts to address the educational achievement gap in challenged neighborhoods. 


“National data shows that 85% of the brain is developed by the time a person is five years old. However, only 14 percent of money for public education is put into these early years,” says Leslie Ann Howard, President & CEO, United Way of Dane County. “The expansion of these early childhood zones is changing this in our community. We are taking to stand and making a clear statement to everyone one that we are committed to providing every opportunity for every student in our community to graduate and be academically successful, regardless of race. This is our promise to Dane County.”


The County Executive was made aware of the need for an Early Childhood Zone and youth homeless prevention in Verona at a summer meeting with Verona Area Joining Forces for Families staff and partners. 


Forty-four percent of students who attend Sugar Creek Elementary, the location of Friday’s announcement, receive free and reduced lunch.


The second zone in Sun Prairie, Dane County’s second-largest community, will be located in the challenged neighborhoods near Westside Elementary.


The zones tap into existing community programming through the United Way, Joining Forces for Families (JFF) and the Early Childhood Initiative to provide hands-on resources for parents, located right in their own neighborhood.


Children will receive regular in-home visits from staff, and the entire family will learn how to build valuable developmental skills through play-and-learn activities that help parents prepare their children for success in school.  Many families  Children and their parents can also attend regular program events that reinforce the work they do together at home.


Early Childhood Zones also have an emphasis on enrollment in 4-year-old kindergarten.  The Verona Early Childhood Zone includes part of the Allied Drive neighborhood, which has seen low enrollment rates.


Early Childhood staff will also work with parents to help them find meaningful employment that will lead to long-term stability for the entire family. 


Parisi’s budget also includes $25,000 for a new “Youth Eviction Prevention Fund” that works hand in hand with programs like the Early Childhood Zones to help stabilize families.


The fund also addresses a rising need  to address youth homelessness in communities throughout Dane County.  The Verona Press reported in June that in the Verona Area School District alone, a record 90 kids spent part of the 2012-13 school year living with friends or relatives, in hotels, or even cars.


The funds will be administered through the county’s Joining Forces for Families program.  With 16 urban and rural offices throughout Dane County, JFF is an accessible place where families can get help with basic needs.  The fund is targeted to families who do not qualify for, or cannot access, other forms of emergency assistance.


Families will be able to access the funds through their local JFF office to get help with rent and other housing expenses.  The fund is meant to bridge the gap for families who may be unable to make a rent payment for the month due to an emergency expense or other hardship, avoiding eviction or homelessness.


Housing instability is a challenge faced by a growing number of children in our communities,” said Parisi.  “Day to day uncertainty over where you’re sleeping – or studying – is not a recipe for success and we can make a difference.”


A full listing of Joining Forces for Families contacts and locations can be found online at


Parisi’s 2014 budget was introduced to the County Board for their review and approval on Tuesday, October 1st.  Historically, county committees meet in October to review the proposal and bring it to the full board for final approval in Mid-November.  The County Executive has the power to approve, veto, or partially veto the spending plan that is returned to him.


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