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Three States Get Race to Top Early-Learning Boost

Colorado, Wisconsin, and New Mexico, winners in the U.S. Department of Education's second round of the Race to the Top early-learning competition, are getting some additional Race to the Top cash, the states announced this week.

And apparently, these states aren't the only ones that might get federal help in revamping their early-childhood education programs. The department is planning to hold yet another round of the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge competition this year, said Cameron French, a spokesman for the department. More details—including how much money states are competing for—are likely soon. But it seems the contest would be similar to previous ones, and would be administered jointly by the Education Department and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Where did this money come from? Back in April, the department let folks know that it would be pumping $370 million of of its $490 million Race to the Top allocation for federal fiscal year 2013 into early-learning programs—which have been a major education focus of President Barack Obama's second term. The administration put six states—California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin—on notice that they would be eligible to receive some extra Race to the Top cash to help achieve their visions for improving early-childhood education.

Why just those states? Short answer: They already had early-learning plans the department liked, but hadn't fully funded.

Longer answer: The department has already held two rounds of the Race to the Top Early Learning Fund competition, which was intended to help states ramp up the quality of their early-childhood education programs.

First, in December of 2011, the department awarded $500 million to nine states that made a persuasive case that they would be able to put the funds to good use. As in other Race to the Top competitions, the department scored the proposals using a team of peer reviewers. And, as in other rounds of Race to the Top, some just barely missed the cutoff score needed to snag a grant.

So, when the administration got more Race to the Top money from Congress, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan decided to give out another round of grants to five states that also had strong showings in the Race to the Top early-learning competition, but didn't make the initial cut. (We called it the "Bridesmaid Round"—there was one for the original, statewide K-12 competition, too.)

The issue? Because this was sort of an "also-ran" round, the grants were a lot smaller than what states had initially asked for. California was in a similar position—even though it won in the first round of the early-learning competition, the department was only able to fund half its award.

There hasn't been an official announcement from Duncan just yet, but apparently the early-learning "bridesmaids" are already starting to get their additional cash. And the states' governors are pretty excited about it. See announcements from Colorado (which got an extra $12.5 million on top of its $25 million award), New Mexico (which received $15 million, on top of its original $29.9 million award), and Wisconsin (which got $11 million, in addition to its original award of $22.7 million.)

It seems likely that additional details (including whether California, Oregon, or Illinois also made the cut) will be coming out soon. Update: French emailed to say that those states are likely to get grants too, but they haven't officially been awarded yet. The states are still submitting paperwork.

Perhaps the department had been hoping to do a comprehensive announcement, explaining all at one time which states got extra funds, and laying out the details of its new early-learning competition.

But apparently, the states that got the additional funding couldn't wait to share the news—and got out in front of the feds.

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