White House officials announced Friday that California will be among nine states to share a $500-million grant for early childhood development programs, the latest chapter in the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" program in which states apply and compete for federal dollars.
This is the first time federal officials have used the program for pre-kindergarten education. President Obama said in a statement that "we're acting to strengthen early childhood education to better prepare our youngest children for success in school and in life." The intent of the grant is to improve the quality and effectiveness of pre-kindergarten programs; it's not designed to create more openings for children.
California will receive $52.6 million, which state officials said will go toward improving the accountability system for early childhood programs. In the competition that required a rigorous application, reviewers gave California high marks for its commitment to early childhood development as well as some of the infrastructure already in place. But they also were concerned about the lack of a quality review system.
A number of education experts expressed surprise over California's selection — not only because of the state's precarious budget situation but because it beat out such states as Pennsylvania and Oklahoma that have reputations for well-developed early childhood programs.
In California, state officials said the focus would be on aligning regional early childhood programs and developing a system to measure quality. It would grade programs based on learning environment, teacher effectiveness and parent engagement. Ultimately, officials said, it would help low-income families, dual-language learners and children with disabilities to close the gap in education they face.
"In these challenging fiscal times, winning this grant will help parents find and use the best programs possible — without additional costs to parents or taxpayers," state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in statement. He added that the grant will offer California students the opportunity of a better education earlier and help ensure their long-term success.
California was one of 35 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, to submit applications for grant money. The others to receive funding were Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington state.
California was eligible to receive as much as $100 million, but analysts said federal officials couldn't offer that much because of the limited pool of money available. Unlike some of the other states selected, California has not received money in previous rounds of Race to the Top that focused on K-12 schools.