With the announcement last Friday that a new round of Race to the Top would target $1 billion toward improving colleges and universities, the Obama administration has officially expanded its federal education sweepstakes across every level of schooling.
Congress, of course, must approve this latest RTT competition, and whether it will seems tenuous at this early stage. This announcement follows closely behind an Ed Week interview earlier this month when Education Secretary Arne Duncan told Michele McNeil that $550 million in already approved cash would be for a Race to the Top competition for school districts.
So what does all of this mean for early childhood? Remember how Duncan said, over and over, that he wished he’d had more money to award more than just the nine states selected to share $500 million in Early Learning Challenge Grants?
While it may not be the case that the administration will sponsor a second go-round of the Early Learning Challenge, might it require more focus on early-childhood programs in the school-district level RTT? Duncan hinted that could be a possibility in his interview with Michele when he said:
I think we'll use it for the districts. You can do different things. You can do early childhood as a piece of that, or STEM as a piece of that. ... I don't want to commit, but the bulk of the money will go through districts...what we'll be asking of districts is still very much up for consideration."
Perhaps even the higher education RTT contest—if it goes anywhere—could include a component that benefits early childhood, especially if teacher education programs that train preschool teachers were to become a focus of the competition.
In the meantime, it will be important to watch the nine states that have won the Early Learning Challenge grants to see how they progress toward putting their promises into practice. It will also be interesting to keep an eye on the 28 other states (including the District of Columbia) that didn’t win, but still worked hard to create detailed plans for improving and expanding their early-childhood programs.
Will any of them move ahead with their plans without having the windfall of federal money to invest? And what do their plans look like? Thanks to the First Five Years fund, there’s now a helpful primer that highlights the policy pledges that all the applicants made.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.