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Estimating the Odds on a Second Round of Early Learning Challenge Grants?

Will there be a second round of federal Early Learning Challenge Grants to help states build their early learning and development systems? It's a big open question. In December 2011 the Department of Education awarded grants to 9 states, using $500 out of just under $700 million in funding appropriated for Race to the Top in the FY2011 budget.

The FY2012 budget for the Department of Education includes $550 million in funding for Race to the Top, and early childhood advocates are gunning for the administration to dedicate a share of that to a second round of Early Learning Challenge Grants. But recent comments by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have suggested that the Department of Education is planning to use the 2012 Race to the Top appropriation largely for a district RTT competition, which would include early childhood education, but might not mean a Round 2 of early learning challenge in fiscal 2012.

Two recent developments are worth keeping an eye on here: First, a group of 46 House Members, including 3 Republicans and 43 Democrats, including Education and Workforce Ranking Member George Miller, sent a letter to Secretaries Duncan and Sebelius last week calling on them to set aside a portion of the 2012 RTT appropriation for another round of Early Learning Challenge. Democratic members of Congress sent a similar letter to the administration last year urging them to use RTT funds for an Early Learning Challenge competition, but the inclusion of 3 Republicans this year (Don Young of Alaska, Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, and Judy Biggert of Illinois) is an interesting development--Pennsylvania and Illinois are two states that were widely considered front runners for ELC grants but did not win them in the recent competition.

The President's Budget Request, released today, includes a request for $850 million in funding for Race to the Top in FY2013. The request clearly states that a portion of that request would be used to fund another round of Early Learning Challenge grants--but the request does not indicate that any funds already appropriated for Race to the Top in 2012 would be used for that purpose, and refers only to the administration's development of a district-level RTT competition for 2012.

Early childhood advocates are adamant that nothing short of a second state-level Early Learning Challenge competition will suffice to maintain state-level momentum on systems-building in FY2012 (although they're much less clear about the amount of funding they'd like to see allocated to such a competition). But given that all signs coming from the administration seem to point towards a district-focused Race to the Top competition that might include early learning as a component, I'm thinking it would behoove advocates to also put some time an energy into advocating for the type of early childhood components they'd like to see in a district-level Race to the Top competition. I have some thoughts on this myself, which I'll be sharing in the coming days and weeks.

UPDATE: A copy of the letter mentioned above is now available on the website of Rep Mazie Hirono, who spearheaded the effort. See link here and above.

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