For those of us who are closely following the development and design of the $500-million Early Learning Challenge competition, a lot more information became available today, as the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services released a 22-page draft of the program requirements, priorities and selection criteria.
We’ve written about the substance of the draft in our accompanying post. Here’s what you need to know about deadlines and dollars, with a few of our questions thrown in:
The Department of Education will accept public comment via the RTT-ELC website until 5 p.m. on July 11, 2011. (The departments are constrained by an unusually tight deadline for getting these funds out the door, but is this enough time – especially over a holiday week – for views to be heard?) Comments will be reviewed jointly by the Department of Education and HHS.
The site for accepting comments is a great improvement over the ad-hoc, jumbled process that characterized the last month of blog commenting and resulted in 199 messages from people who were often identified only by their first names. In the new format, users can provide input under each section of the proposed requirements by clicking on each hyperlinked section. This could prove to be a more transparent and effective way to elicit input on everything from the proposed definitions to the nitty gritty details under each of the four selection criteria.
The final guidelines are anticipated to be released in mid-August.
Applications will be due in mid-October, according to federal officials. (Will states get any assistance in developing high-quality plans in time to meet these deadlines? So far, few philanthropies have stepped up to help states the way the Gates Foundation and other organizations did when the K-12 version of Race to the Top was announced. See Sara Mead for more on this point.)
Winners will be announced by the end of the year. The grant period would be from December 31, 2011 through December 31, 2015.
How much money would states be able to win? The program would divide states into four categories based on the population of children, birth through 5, from low-income families in each state. Here’s the breakdown:
- California, Florida, New York and Texas would be eligible for grants up to $100 million.
- Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania would be eligible for up to $70 million grants.
- Alabama, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin would be eligible for up to $60 million grants.
- The remaining states would be eligible for grants up to $50 million.
However, the Secretary of Education would have the discretion to award grants out of rank order to states with high-quality applications and that have high numbers (or high percentages) of high-poverty individuals in rural areas.
(A press release that accompanied an embargoed copy of the draft said that the grants would be between $50 million and $100 million. Doing the math, that would mean that as few as 5 states, and no more than 10, could be winners. But the draft document shows that those smaller states may receive “up to” $50 million, which could mean a series of smaller grants and the possibility of more than 10 winners if all the winners are from small states. Still, with so few winners possible, is the funding that is available enough of a carrot for states to develop applications that adequately address the extensive proposed criteria?)
The applications will be peer reviewed using outside experts chosen by the two departments. Reviewers will rate applications according to a number-based point system. But U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will have the final say, according to Jacqueline Jones, Duncan’s senior advisor on early learning.
(According to officials, reviewers are already being sought. Are there individuals with adequate credentials who do not already have a vested interest in a particular state who are not already being asked to help a state develop its application? This is always a hurdle for peer-reviewed federal grants, but in this case, given the insularity of the early childhood world, it may be particularly acute.)
Don't miss our special page with continuing news coverage and commentary on the Early Learning Challenge grant program and how it came into existence.
UPDATED 7/1/11 at 10:50 a.m. with more specifics about how the new commenting process works.