Policy Brief

Ed. Dept. Pushes for Early-Childhood Funding

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Education officials ran through a grab bag of topics—from early-education priorities to the technical assistance rolling down the road for Race to the Top winners—at the U.S. Department of Education’s most recent session with stakeholders in Washington.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan kicked off the meeting with a group that included national and regional education advocates, lobbyists, and others looking for policy updates, by saying the department still hopes to get $300 million from Congress for a new early-childhood education initiative.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has included $300 million for early-childhood education in its fiscal year 2011 spending bill, which is waiting for Congress to return as early as mid-November after the midterm elections. It is unclear whether a version of the bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives also included the language because lawmakers haven’t made the bill public.

Advocates might be cautious about the prospects, however. President Obama talked plenty about early childhood education on the campaign trail, saying he would like to provide an additional $10 billion a year for the programs, but that money hasn’t materialized. And the department’s stab at a Race to the Top-type program for preschool, the Early Learning Challenge Fund, was jettisoned from federal legislation aimed at making major changes to the student loan industry.

On the Race to the Top front, Judy Wurtzel, a deputy assistant secretary for policy, planning, and evaluation, talked up the department’s efforts to provide technical assistance to the 12 winners. She explained that ICF International based in Fairfax, Va., got a $43 million, four-year contract to help with Race to the Top technical assistance.

And, apparently, there is a pay-for-performance element at work. The contractor can earn up to $5 million more if the department is happy with its role in boosting student outcomes, state implementation of Race to the Top plans, and the quality of its service.

ICF and its partners will help identify winning states’ needs, both individually and as a group, and share the lessons learned. Ms. Wurtzel said the department is aiming to create a website where states can share what they have created for Race to the Top. The materials would be available to all states—not just the 11 states and District of Columbia that won the competition.

Separately, Rob Mahaffey, a spokesman for the Rural School and Community Trust in Arlington, Va., raised an issue that has long concerned rural schools: the way Title I funding for disadvantaged students is distributed. Rural-school advocates say the current set of formulas—a complex set of calculations based, in part, on poverty levels and population—short-changes rural schools.

Mr. Mahaffey asked whether a revamp of the Title I formula would be on the table in a proposed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—something that would surely spark some territorial fights in Congress.

Mr. Duncan was non-committal on the issue. He said the formula is “absolutely being looked at” by the department’s ESEA team.

Vol. 30, Issue 10

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