Six states – Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont – will receive $280 million in federal grants in the third round of the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, federal officials announced on Thursday.
The six states join 14 others that were awarded Early Learning Challenge grants in the first two rounds of the competition, which supports the education of children from birth to five years old. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia competed in the third round of the competition.
The grants announced Thursday range from $36.9 million to $51.7 million. The Obama administration has awarded over $1 billion in Early Learning Challenge grants and is proposing to spend an additional $75 billion over the next 10 years to fund universal prekindergarten for low-income and moderate-income families.
“By investing in high-quality early learning through programs like Race to the Top – Early Leaning Challenge, we are able to close achievement gaps, provide life-transforming opportunities for children, and strengthen and build a thriving middle class,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
New Jersey, which will receive $44.3 million, will use the funds to establish a coordinated system of early education and child care, including a statewide quality rating improvement system that will help parents choose between child care options and help programs improve. New Jersey's plan also includes a training academy to coordinate professional development for programs serving high-needs children, a kindergarten entry assessment and early learning standards for children from birth to age three.
“Ensuring access to a high-quality education for every New Jersey student has been a priority of this administration since day one in office,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, said. “We have made great progress to improve the educational experience for all New Jersey students, from children in early learning education programs to students attending one of New Jersey's many institutions of higher learning.”
Georgia, which will receive $51.7 million, will use the money to increase access to high-quality child care for low-income families and to develop a kindergarten entry assessment, among other initiatives. Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning Commissioner Bobby Cagle said the state will create financial incentives for early education programs to improve their overall quality and to serve more children who are low-income or who are developmentally delayed.
Vermont will use $36.9 million to create apprenticeships and scholarships for early childhood educators and expand home visiting programs for new parents, among other programs.
Kentucky was awarded $44.3 million for its plan to expand the state's quality rating system for early learning programs, promote family engagement and improve professional development for early childhood educators.
“This $44 million grant represents one of the largest single investments in Kentucky's students – and it's targeted specifically to our youngest students, who will carry the positive impact of these programs throughout their school careers,” said Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat. “This is an unprecedented opportunity to make the large-scale improvements in early childhood education that we have long known are critical to student success, but have always been shelved because of lack of funding.”
Pennsylvania will use its $51.7 million to establish 50 “innovation zones,” with the goal of involving parents more in their children's education, building stronger relationships between early childhood education programs and school districts, and strengthening the network of community organizations serving families with young children. The grant also will help pay for better professional development for early childhood educators.
Michigan expects about 182,000 children to benefit from its $51.7 million grant, according to State Superintendent Mike Flanagan. Michigan's plan includes increasing access to high-quality early childhood programs, increasing opportunities for home care providers to improve the quality of their programs, and expanding training for home care providers.
“Michigan's Race to the Top Award – the first ever for our state – aligns perfectly with our ambitious early childhood investments,” said Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. “This is not a replacement for our current and future investments, but rather a very significant addition to our efforts to give children in Michigan a great start.”