The Early Learning Challenge "Competition" that Isn't
Today is the extended deadline for districts in Hurricane Sandy-affected areas to submit their applications for the Race to the Top District competition. Race to the Top District is the big RTT competition this year, but let's not forget that there's another RTT "competition" going on at the same time--the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Competition, or what I like to think of as the "we feel bad that Illinois didn't win last time, and congressional Democrats really wanted us to allocate Race to the Top Funds to early childhood again this year competition." I'm putting "competition" in quotes because the RTT ELC Round 2 competition isn't really much of one. The Department of Education limited the eligible applicants to the five highest scoring non-winning applicants from last year's cycle. And the notice inviting applications specifies the maximum grant award that each eligible state may apply for--amounts which, conveniently, sum to the total amount of funding the Department chose to allocate for Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge this year. In other words, everyone seems to be operating under the assumption that if these 5 states go to the trouble of submitting the revised application this year, they're pretty much certain to get the money. No surprise that all five of them did so.
The really troubling thing here is that nothing in the Round 2 ELC application ask states to demonstrate that they've made progress towards addressing early childhood priorities since they submitted their 2011 applications. States do have to show or explain how they've maintained financial commitments to early childhood education, but for the most part the 2012 applications just ask states to explain how they would address the priorities in the 2011 application while adjusting or paring down the activities they proposed last year to fit within a 50% lower funding level. It's as if the federal government has no expectation that these states would or could have made any progress on early childhood education over the past year without federal grants to do so.
And that, to my mind, reflects the biggest failure of Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge--one that I fear is likely to be repeated in RTT-D--and that I'll have more to say about tomorrow.