This week the Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services announced more details on the next round of the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge. Five states – all of which earned at least 75 percent of the points available in the first round – are eligible to compete: Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin. Both Colorado and New Mexico are states we named as top contenders for RTT-ELC grants, which fell just short of wins in the first competition.
Organizing the competition in this way limits the applicants to those that have already met the bar for developing high-quality plans. A similar format was used in the third round of Race to the Top, which focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). In that competition, the next nine highest scoring states from the previous round were allowed to apply. Seven of those chose to compete for the $200 million available and all seven received grants.
For the 2012 Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge, only $133 million is available, considerably less than the $500 million made available in round one. The eligible states can apply for up to 50 percent of what they requested in their previous applications. Colorado, for example, will be eligible to apply for just under $30 million. The math works out so that if all five states apply, all could receive the amount they are eligible to request.
The question is, in the current difficult fiscal climate, what will states be able to accomplish with half the money they originally requested? Many states continue to cut funding for early education programs. Will the departments ask less of states in the next RTT-ELC application? If so, what will be dropped? Efforts to improve and support the early education workforce? Initiatives to develop comprehensive assessment systems? Projects to enhance state early education data systems?
Perhaps the departments will require states to commit to all the same reforms despite the decreased funding. Or maybe, as with the STEM focused K-12 round of Race to the Top, states will be asked to focus primarily on one policy area, such as Quality Rating & Improvement Systems or kindergarten entry assessments. In the first RTT-ELC, the most points were allocated to these two priorities.
With $133 million going to the next Early Learning Challenge, that leaves almost $420 million for the district-level Race to the Top. Read our post on how we think the district competition could support local PreK-3rd initiatives.