35 states along with D.C. and Puerto Rico submitted applications for the Race To the Top-Early Learning Challenge, a $500 million state-level competitive grant program to improve early learning and development, the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services have announced.
"The strong response from states shows there is a shared commitment to raising the bar on quality across early learning programs, including those serving low income children who too often start kindergarten already behind their classmates," said Secretary for Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
"By investing in our children's early years, we can put them on track to success in school and in the 21st century job market while boosting our long term competitiveness as a nation."
In May, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius joined business, law enforcement and military leaders to announce the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge.
They highlighted how investments in high-quality early learning programs help reduce crime, strengthen national security, and boost economic and international competitiveness.
Applicants have created plans proposing how they would improve early learning and development programs. These applications revolved around five key areas of reform.
The applications look to establishing Successful State Systems, defining High-Quality, Accountable Programs, Promoting Early Learning and Development Outcomes for Children, supporting A Great Early Childhood Education Workforce, and Measuring Outcomes and Progress.
The early learning stakeholder community has joined education leaders across the country in improving early learning and development programs by providing technical assistance to states in preparing their applications.
"I'm thrilled to see so many states taking advantage of this opportunity, and advocacy groups and policy experts have shown tremendous leadership in supporting states' efforts to coordinate their early learning systems," said Secretary Duncan.
"Their collaborative work is helping ensure that all children enter kindergarten with the skills they need to be successful in school and beyond."
Over the next several weeks, applications will undergo peer review by early childhood experts from across the country.
In mid-December, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services will award the highest ranked applicants within funding availability.
Awards will range from around $50 million up to $100 million, depending on a state's population of children from low-income families and proposed plan.