California wins early learning grant

California has won a $52.6 million grant for early childhood education programs through the federal government’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge.  US Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius announced the nine winners of the $500 million competitive grant program at a White House press event this morning.

“It’s great for our state,” said Scott Moore,  senior policy advisor with Preschool California, which helped write California’s application. The state’s proposal was unique because it calls for locally-based programming rather than a large statewide grant.  Sixteen regional consortia in the state will share 85 percent of the funds and most of the decision making.

This is a “recognition that what California is poised to do is seen as cutting edge and leading in the nation in terms of providing, especially low income children and children starting to fall behind, the chance to catch up and the chance to be ready for school,” said Moore.

California was among nine states awarded grants;  35 states plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico applied.  The state had been seeking $100 million dollars, but a note on the U.S. Department of Education website says there wasn’t enough money to meet that request (see box at right).

Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge winners and grant amounts (source:  US Dept. of Education) click to enlarge
Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge winners and grant amounts (source: US Dept. of Education) click to enlarge

Sue Burr, executive director of the State Board of Education, said the Department of Education will consult with the consortia members about how to proceed with less money.  The options range from reducing the number of regions in the consortia or keeping it at 16 and having each of them do a little less – perhaps working with fewer schools or not holding as many training sessions.  “I think it will still be a robust implementation,” said Burr.

The California plan calls for developing a tiered quality rating system to encourage early childhood programs to have quality teachers and quality instructional materials, and to make sure they’re aligned with the skills children will need when they enter kindergarten.

The grant almost didn’t make it to the federal government.  As we reported here, Gov. Jerry Brown waited until the eleventh hour to finalize the application and sign off on it.

In a statement released this morning, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said, “this grant will help more California children get good care and a good start at learning, which we know is key to their long-term success, at school and beyond.”