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Early-Childhood Community Upset Maine Won't Compete in Race to Top

Many in Maine's early-childhood community are still seething after learning that the state won't compete for $37 million in the Race to the Top federal grant competition that would be applied to improving education for children in their early years.

"It's a tremendous loss for the state, which is rural and poor and can use all the support we can get to make sure our young children start school ready to succeed," said Karen Heck, the mayor of Waterville and senior program officer at the Bingham Program, a charitable endowment to promote health and medicine in Augusta, in an e-mail.

The state applied twice for the early education money before—and failed—and now it's been decided that the money has too many strings attached, Samantha Warren, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Education, told the Bangor Daily News

"Instead of spending months developing an exhaustive application and then months holding our breath to see whether it was successful, we'd rather keep our good work moving while looking for funding sources that are sustainable and flexible enough to ensure that our efforts can best evolve to support all Maine children," Warren told the paper.

Currently 16 states and the District of Columbia have applied for $280 million Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, the newspaper said. The aim of the program is to fund improvements in early-childhood education, especially for high-needs students.

The newspaper reported that many in Maine's education department believed their previous attempts to win the grants were well articulated. In fact, state officials aimed to keep pushing forward to edit their submissions in the hopes of winning, the local press reported.

Heck noted that many sectors, including Maine's business community, are behind early-childhood education.

Even so, the grants might be more trouble than they're worth, Warren said.

"What we've heard is that with that [Race to the Top] funding comes incredibly tight restrictions that prevent [state government] from being as flexible as they need to be to serve the children of the state and not the demands of the federal government," Warren told the local newspaper. "We did not at the department level feel that this was something worth applying for at this time."

To read more of our reporting on Race to the Top, click here.

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