U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced plans to use approximately $500 million of the fiscal year 2011 Race to the Top funding for a major competition in support of bold and comprehensive state plans for raising the quality of early learning programs.

This new competition, the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC), will be jointly administered by the departments of Education and Health and Human Services. The competition will call for states to take a comprehensive approach to developing integrated, high-quality early learning systems to ensure that more children, especially high-need children, enter school ready and able to succeed.

Specific competition requirements, priorities, and selection criteria are still under development. However, consistent with the statute, applicant states will need to:

  • Increase the number and percentage of low-income and disadvantaged children in each age group of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers enrolled in high-quality early learning programs;
  • Design and implement an integrated system of high-quality early learning programs and services; and
  • Ensure that any use of assessments conforms to the recommendations of the National Research Council’s reports on early childhood.

The department will waive the formal process for rulemaking for the new program to expedite the release of funds by Dec. 31, 2011. Instead, stakeholders are encouraged to submit opinions, ideas, suggestions and comments to http://www.ed.gov/blog/2011/05/rtt-early-learning-challenge/. The Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) will be released in late summer with an anticipated six to eight weeks for the completion of state applications.

In addition, the department also announced $200 million in remaining fiscal year 2011 Race to the Top funds, to support state-led reforms among the nine finalist states that did not receive grants in the department’s first two rounds of competition for this program. Those states include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and South Carolina. An application will be made available to this group of states early this fall, with awards to be made by the end of this calendar year.

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