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Florida Among the Disappointed in Early Learning RTT Contest

Florida was a big winner in the original federal Race to the Top competition—to the tune of $700 million—but it lost out in the latest iteration of the contest. And Gov. Rick Scott wasn't happy about it.

The Republican governor has pledged to not pursue federal funding that he believes would heap new spending obligations on his state.

In a tartly worded statement released upon learning that Florida was not named a winner in the $500 million early learning competition, Scott said that his state had missed out on the money but had not succumbed to federal overreach.

"When Florida's application was submitted for the grant in October, we made it clear that we would not accept grant money with strings attached, additional state spending obligations, or requirements that created new burdensome regulations on private providers," Scott said. "We stuck to our principles, and unfortunately our insistence against irresponsibly using one-time dollars for recurring government programs did not win the favor of the administration in Washington."

Florida's director of the office of early learning, Mel Jurado, offered a similar message, and a similar critique.

"Governor Scott's opposition to irresponsible spending is in the best interest of the state, despite the wishes of the administration in Washington," Jurado said in statement. "We will continue to carry out the Governor's vision to create a great education system in Florida that will prepare our youth for the workforce."

A spokesman for Scott, Lane Wright, explained that the governor was not suggesting that the state's application "did not win the favor" of the competition's judges, or that it lost points, because of its failure to comply with one specific federal stipulation or another. It was simply meant as a statement of fact, Wright said: The governor had not compromised on his positions in submitting the application. The state "made a request, and it was rejected," he said.

One requirement for states to be eligible for the early-learning Race to the Top program was that they participate in the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program, which was part of the Obama administration-backed health care law, approved in 2010. The program provides at-risk families with a range of in-home services, such as access to nurses and social workers, and support for child development and school-readiness, according to HHS.

Florida lawmakers had initially rejected taking part in the program, because of objections to the law, but Gov. Rick Scott had said earlier this year that he would ask the legislature for the right to participate in it, so that the state could compete for early-learning funds. His request was granted.

Florida is currently participating in the program, and so their eligibility for the early-learning funds would not have been affected, said Jesse Moore, a spokesman for HHS.

"It was a very competitive field," Moore said of the contest. "It's important work that all the [applicants have carried out], in thinking through how to strengthen their early education systems. These steps will help children across the board."

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