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Garcia upbeat on chances for R2T grant

Colorado is preparing to enter a third round of competition for federal Race to the Top funds, and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia is hopeful the state’s luck will change this time around.

“We think Colorado is well positioned” for the R2T early-childhood competition, said Garcia, the Hickenlooper administration’s point person on education issues, in a recent interview with Education News Colorado. The state came up short in two previous competitions for larger R2T programs.

The state is planning to apply for two R2T grants, the Early Childhood Challenge program whose rules were announced on July 1 and a separate “consolation” grant open to the nine states that lost out in round two of the main R2T competition last August. The total amount of federal money available is $700 million – $500 million for ECE and $200 million for the other program. Colorado could receive $60 million from the early childhood program.

Garcia said the state is getting organized quickly on the ECE application, working first to consult with interest groups and early childhood leaders for advice on how the state should pitch its application. The federal government earlier this month issued its requirements for the Early Childhood Challenge but hasn’t yet done so for the other program.

Advisory group shaping strategy; listening tour starts July 29

The lieutenant governor’s office already has convened an advisory group to help develop goals, objectives and strategies for the state’s application.

The group includes early childhood administrators and experts, legislators, foundation executives and former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, current First Lady Helen Thorpe and former First Lady Jeanne Ritter. (More information on the advisory group and meetings.)

A eight-city “listening tour” around the state to gather public comment on the application kicks off July 29 in Parker at The Wildlife Experience, 10035 South Peoria St., from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. There’s also an online form that can be used to submit comments.

Garcia said he believes it’s important that the application have broad support “so the proposal isn’t driven just by one state office.”

Two priorities being considered for the application are proposals to build a data system that includes ECE students and to implement professional development standards for early childhood teachers.

Garcia also said the application may include some proposals for better integrating and coordinating childcare and early education in the state.

“It seems to me that would be very attractive to the reviewers,” he said. “We need to improve quality and consistency across the state.”

Ritter’s early childhood commission meshes well with early R2T

Former Gov. Bill Ritter created an Early Childhood Leadership Commission in early 2010 to “improve outcomes for young children” through better coordination and efficiency of childcare and early education.

The commission, which is funded by another federal grant and is set to expire in 2013, already is working on improved data systems, recommendations for better coordination of programs and proposals for professional standards.

The commission’s work would seem to mesh with the overall goals of the federal Early Childhood Challenge, which are to improve the overall quality of early childhood education and to close the kindergarten readiness gap for at-risk children.

“Strong applicants would illustrate a strategy to increase access to quality programs for high-need children, as well as engage families and invest in improving, supporting and developing their early childhood education workforce. Under the proposed requirements, grantees will be expected to track children’s development and publicly document effective practices and successful programs to help parents make informed decisions,” according to a DOE statement.

Main priorities for applicants include kindergarten entry assessments

There are five main proposed priorities for applicants:

  • Use of early learning and development standards and kindergarten entry assessments to promote school readiness.
  • Use of tiered quality rating and improvement systems to promote school readiness.
  • Including all early learning and development programs in the tiered quality rating and improvement system.
  • Sustaining ECE program effects in the early elementary grades.
  • Encouraging private sector support.

The competition will require states to have, or have plans to develop:

  • Early learning development standards and assessments.
  • Kindergarten readiness tests and a program rating system.
  • Cooperation among multiple government human-services departments, not just education agencies.
  • A good track record on early learning programs and plans to improve them.
  • Inclusion of ECE and kindergarten data in the state’s longitudinal data system.

Garcia not deterred by state’s failure in prior R2T contests

Colorado has a long-established preschool program for at-risk students, with existing quality and academic standards and an assessment system. But the program serves fewer than 60 percent of eligible 4-year-olds and a small percentage of 3-year-olds. Expansion plans have been stymied by the state’s budget crunch. Information about preschool children is not now part of the state’s educational data systems.

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia
Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia

Colorado could be eligible for up to $60 million in the Early Childhood Challenge. The state bid for $337 million in the first round of R2T and $175 million in the second phase.

Garcia said he’s not concerned by the relatively small amount of grant funds compared to the earlier rounds. “There are plenty of opportunities for one-time money.”

He also said he’s not deterred by the state’s two previous disappointments, saying the opportunity to gain funds for early childhood work “is simply too important to pass up.”

Application forms are expected to be available later this summer, with winners to be selected and grants made by Dec. 31.

A look at the Colorado Preschool Program

The 23-year-old Colorado Preschool Program serves 20,160 at-risk children in 169 of the state’s 178 school districts. Enrollment has been flat since 2008 because of budget constraints.

The program serves primarily 4-year-olds whose families are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, although other at-risk factors also are used for eligibility. There are an estimated 73,000 4-year-olds in Colorado, some 35,000 of whom are FRL-eligible.

Only 14 percent of 3-year-olds and 32 percent of 4-year-olds are served by the preschool program, Head Start and Early Childhood Special Education. (Statistics are taken from the program’s 2011 report to the legislature.)

Preschool students are covered by the state’s recently adopted academic content standards, and students are assessed under a system named Results Matter.

Data presented in the program’s annual report shows that CPSP students generally do better than other at-risk students on the Colorado Basic Literacy Act tests given in the early grades. Graduates of the program also generally perform better on elementary school CSAP tests, which start in the third grade, than other at-risk children. But scores of CPSP children still lag behind state averages.

Centers operating under the CPSP must meet the Colorado Quality Standards for Early Childhood Care and Education Services. About 30 percent of sites are rates by Qualistar or the National Association for the Education of Young Children Accreditation program. The majority of sites are evaluated periodically by district advisory councils.

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