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RttT To Award $500 Million To Boost Early Learning Programs

ED also reported that some states will be eligible for $200 million in funds available this year through Race to the Top. A district-level RttT program is also in the works.

The Obama administration today revealed a new federal funding program designed to bolster early learning programs with $500 million in federal Race to the Top grants.

Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge
The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge will award funds to states that submit plans for overhauling their early learning systems with "better coordination, clearer learning standards, and meaningful workforce development."

Race to the Top is a federal program focused on driving changes in public schooling through competitive grants to states, with an eye toward reforming academic standards, investing in teachers and education leadership, improving achievement in schools whose students have performed poorly on standardized tests, and developing data systems that follow students from "cradle to career."

The program was launched as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 and initially funded to the tune of $4.35 billion, distributed over two rounds of applications through 2010. Congress provided another $700 million in fiscal year 2011 appropriations, from which $500 million will go toward the new Early Learning Challenge.

Unlike previous RttT programs, the Early Learning Challenge will be administered jointly by the United States Department of Education (ED) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

According to information released by ED and HHS, "States applying for challenge grants will be encouraged to increase access to quality early learning programs for low income and disadvantaged children, design integrated and transparent systems that align their early care and education programs, bolster training and support for the early learning workforce, create robust evaluation systems to document and share effective practices and successful programs, and help parents make informed decisions about care for their children."

United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius introduce the Early Learning Challenge Wednesday morning.

Extending Race to the Top
In related news, ED revealed today that states that failed to receive funding in the first two rounds of Race to the Top funding but were finalists will now be eligible to apply for a share of $200 million in funds being offered through the program this year--the remainder of the RttT FY 2011 appropriation after subtracting $500 million for the Early Learning Challenge grant program.

Individual state grants will total $10 million to $50 million, depending on certain variables, including state size and the number and size of grants awarded to other states.

According to ED, those eligible states include Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and South Carolina.

Duncan indicated that the second round of Race to the Top funding was extremely competitive, leaving too few funds to award to those proposals that might have otherwise been worthy of funding.

"In phase 2," he said, "we had many more competitive applications than we had funds to award. We're committed to working with the states that are the most serious about education reform."

All of the winners in phase 2, according to ED, received scores of 440 or higher on their applications on a 500-point scale. The nine finalists that did not receive funding missed that mark by fewer than 38 points in every case.

"Every state that applied for Race to the Top funds now has a blueprint for raising educational quality across America," Duncan said in a prepared statement released by the department today. "These funds will encourage states to continue their courageous work to challenge the status quo and build on the momentum for education reform happening in our classrooms, schools and communities."

Applications are expected to be available in the fall.

The department added that the Obama administration is currently seeking an extension of Race to the Top into 2012 and is also working on a possible district-level award program, though details of how such a program would work were not released. ED said the administration was merely "seeking authority to develop" such a program at this point.

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