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Governors Offer Bipartisan Praise for Early Learning Challenge Grants

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has been on the record as being distrustful of federal Race to the Top funding when he was a gubernatorial hopeful.

But that was three years ago, before the state won $400 million in Race to the Top funds to reform its education system, and before Thursday's announcement that Georgia, along with Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Vermont, had garnered a share of nearly $281 million in federal funds earmarked for early-learning programs. They join 16 other states that had won funding in two previous early-learning grant competitions. 

The $51.7 million that Georgia was awarded in under the program "augments what the state of Georgia is already doing," Deal said in a Thursday press call hosted by the U.S. Department of Education to announce the winners of the latest round of grants. The department has "given us great flexibility in terms of designing the program and making the application, and given us great opportunity in the implementation," Deal said. 

The press call supported Education Secretary Arne Duncan's comments during the press call that "in the real world, outside of the Washington bubble, this has become a nonpartisan issue." Joining Deal to offer warm praise to the Education Department and the Obama administration were his fellow Republican governors, Rick Snyder of Michigan and Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania. Democratic governors Steve Beshear of Kentucky and Peter Shumlin of Vermont also participated. 

The funding "dovetails effortlessly" with early-learning activities already underway in Michigan, said Snyder, who shared the story of a teacher who told him two of her students started school not knowing their colors. "They're starting at a huge disadvantage, and that's not right," Snyder said. 

Seventeen states applied for the funds in this round, and the Education Department has links to each application. Among the plans the states plan to launch:

  • Georgia says it will create customized early-learning programs for "early education empowerment zones," which are geographic areas with large numbers of high-need children.
  • Kentucky plans to expand its quality rating system from a voluntary program to a mandatory system for all of the state's early-learning and development programs, including private preschool, home-based day care and Head Start.
  • Michigan will use a portion of its funds to create guides to help parents understand the results of the kindergarten entry assessments that the state is currently piloting, with an eye to implementing them statewide by 2015. 
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