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Will Early Education Get a Piece of New Race to Top Funding?

On the heels of last week's announcement of the winners of the Race to the Top Early Learning challenge, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said he isn't sure yet whether there would be a second round of funding for early-childhood programs.

The administration's signature grant competition, Race to the Top, is getting $550 million in the latest budget agreement. The money can be used for either states or districts. And, in language accompanying the spending bill, lawmakers directed the department to include a "robust early childhood education component" in the next round of Race to the Top.

But they don't say how much money to put toward it, or whether it has to be a separate competition, or just a factor in awarding the grants. That will up to the secretary.

So far, he's demuring. In a conference call with reporters last week, Duncan was directly asked whether he'd use some of the money for early education. And he wouldn't commit.

"We don't know yet," he said. "Stay tuned."

Early childhood advocates say the department shouldn't drop the ball now.

"We absolutely want to see it ... we're going to be screaming for it," said Cornelia Grumman, the executive director of the First Five Years Fund, which champions early-learning programs. She said states put a lot of thought in their applications into improving the quality of their programs for young children. "It would be a shame to lose all that momentum," she said.

The Obama administration is garnering a lot of headlines through the competition. But, despite a big campaign promise of $10 billion for early childhood, it took a while for the administration to get going on its plan to improve early-learning programs, which caused some to question its commitment on the issue.

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