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New $133 Million Available for Race to Top Early Learning Grants

from Politics K-12 blogger Alyson Klein

The five states that narrowly missed winning a slice of the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Fund will get a chance to compete for $133 million in new money, the U.S. Department of Education announced today.

Eligible for this round: Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin.

Nine states already have split $500 million in early-learning funding last year, including California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Washington. The program is focused on helping states develop plans to expand access to high-quality preschool programs, including for low-income children.

This year, Congress provided $550 million for Race to the Top overall. That means, that after the early learning money goes out, there should be roughly $417 million left for a new district-level competition. The Education Department is still working out the details on just what that will look like.

When it comes to funds for the Early Learning Challenge Grants, the department is taking a similar route to theRace to the Top Round 3—aka the "Bridesmaid Edition." Under that round, the department offered the nine states that narrowly missed winning a grant the chance to implement one piece of their original proposal. (One, South Carolina, said no thanks. And another, California, didn't submit a completed application.)

It's unclear whether the new Early Learning Challenge funds will flow the same way. The department is planning to put out an application in the fall. The money will definitely need to be out the door by the end of the calendar year in December.

The five states in this round can compete for up to 50 percent of the money they were eligible for under the original Early Learning Challenge competition. Under that program, grants were worth from $50 million to $100 million, depending on the details of a state's proposal and its population of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Interesting twist: The department went back over the scoring for the first round of the Early Learning Challenge and found some "scoring inconsistencies" in seven states, including Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, and Wisconsin.

That means some of the state's scores have changed, in some cases by as much as 10 points. For instance, Wisconsin went from a 234 to a 224, out of possible 300 points. And Hawaii went from a 135.2 to a 125.2.

The corrections didn't result in different winners. And the same states are eligible for the new, runners-up-only Early Learning Challenge funding.

But, even though the errors didn't make a big difference in outcomes, they could be fodder for criticism from the growing numbers of folks who aren't fans of the department's competitive grant programs.

Education organizations (such as the National School Boards Association), Republicans and even many Democrats on Capitol Hill would much rather see the administration pump education money into the big formula programs that go out to every district, Title I grants for districts and special education. Some have even called the scoring processes for competitive grant programs arbitrary and confusing.

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