The U.S. Department of Education’s third round of Race to the Top Early-Learning Challenge grants now brings to 20 the number of states that have received federal funding to boost their early-learning programs.
Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia applied for the funds.
“In the real world, outside of the Washington bubble, this has become a nonpartisan issue,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a press call last month announcing the winners.
He was joined by Govs. Nathan Deal of Georgia, Rick Snyder of Michigan, and Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania—all Republicans—along with Peter Shumlin of Vermont and Steve Beshear of Kentucky, who are Democrats. GOP Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey did not participate. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, whose state won an Early-Learning Challenge grant in 2011, also took part in the event.
Six states will share nearly $281 million as part of the third round of the Race to the Top Early-Learning Challenge competition.
Using a portion of its funds to create guides to help parents understand the results of the kindergarten-entry assessments that the state is piloting, with an eye to implementing them statewide by 2015.
Creating customized early-learning programs for “early education empowerment zones,” which are geographic areas with large numbers of high-need children.
Revising the state’s prekindergarten early-learning standards.
Expanding its quality-rating system from a voluntary program to a mandatory system for all of the state’s early-learning and -development programs, including private preschools, home-based day care, and Head Start centers.
New Jersey—$44.3 million:
Increasing the number of early-childhood educators trained in family-engagement strategies.
Expanding professional development for early-childhood workers.
Source: U.S. Department of Education
Mr. Duncan said that even with the administration’s investment in early learning, “the unmet need is staggering and frankly heartbreaking.”
Supporting State Work
State leaders haven’t always been so quick to embrace the administration’s offers of help. For example, Mr. Deal had been on the record as being distrustful of federal Race to the Top funding when he was a gubernatorial hopeful. “I do not agree with anything that has strings attached,” he told the Metro Atlanta Chamber, a business group, according to a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2010.
That, however, was before the state won $400 million in Race to the Top funds to change its education system. The early-learning grant will bring an additional $51.7 million to the state.
The money “augments what the state of Georgia is already doing,” Gov. Deal said. The federal Education Department has “given us great flexibility in terms of designing the program and making the application, and given us great opportunity in the implementation,” he said.
The funding “dovetails effortlessly” with early-learning activities already underway in Michigan, said Mr. Snyder, who shared the story of a teacher who told him that two of her students started school not knowing their colors. “They’re starting at a huge disadvantage, and that’s not right,” he said.
Mr. Shumlin of Vermont said that the early education push his state has planned could not be accomplished without the federal grant program.
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“My employers are constantly saying to me, we cannot find enough people trained to do the work that we need to do,” he said. “In a state that has aging demographics, I know the answer to our jobs challenge is getting to kids early.”
All the states have plans to enhance the rating systems that they have for early-childhood providers. The money also will be used to pay for professional development for early-childhood educators, parent outreach, and collaboration among agencies that work with families and young children. The Education Department has links to each application.
In 2011, nine states shared $500 million: California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Washington.
In 2012, five more states split $133 million: Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin. In addition to the third round of the competition, the department also gave six previous winners an additional $89 million overall, because their grant requests had not been fully funded.
The Education Department has also awarded a total of $15 million, in a smaller grant program, for states to create kindergarten-entry assessments.
The tests, which children take soon after starting kindergarten, gauge a child’s academic skills, emotional health, and physical well-being and provide early guidance to teachers on getting children on track to meet high academic standards. The winners of that competition, announced in September, included a seven-state consortium led by Maryland, a nine-state group led by North Carolina, and the state of Texas.
A version of this article appeared in the January 08, 2014 edition of Education Week as States Split Latest Pot of Early-Learning Aid