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State makes another Race to the Top try

Colorado officials have filed their application for $30 million from the federal government’s Race to the Top – Early Childhood Challenge program.

The state lost out last year in a $60 million bid for the same program. The latest application is for a “consolation round” open only to the states that came close, but not close enough, last time. The second round isn’t competitive, and applicants are expected to win awards as long as applications meet the Department of Education’s detailed requirements.

The federal goals for the program are to increase the number and percentage of disadvantaged children in high-quality early learning programs, creation of coordinated early learning programs and services, and ensuring use of high-quality early assessments.

Colorado’s application promises to use the money for work in four areas:

  • Improving coordination of state and local early learning programs.
  • Launching what’s called a Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System for all licensed childcare and early learning programs and increasing the number of programs rated at the highest levels of quality.
  • Creation of a statewide system for training of early childhood professionals.
  • Establishment of a universal kindergarten assessment and expansion of assessment of children before kindergarten.

Those goals have been the centerpiece of early childhood policy for Gov. John Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, the administration’s point man on education policy.

The application cites preliminary work already being done in those areas, including creation of an Office of Early Childhood to coordinate the work of existing agencies and programs, work on a draft plan for the new rating system, planned improvements in college training of early childhood educators and adoption of early learning and development guidelines.

The state’s bid sets the following goals to be accomplished by 2016:

  • Participation by all licensed early learning programs in the new quality rating system, with 35 percent of centers rated in the highest levels of quality, and the use of a new early childhood workforce competency framework by all Colorado community colleges and half of four-year colleges. The plan also sets goals for percentages of childcare workers who will earn higher credentials.
  • All children in public schools will participate in the kindergarten readiness assessment. Results of those assessments will be used to set a statewide school readiness baseline, and the application promises, “Based upon this baseline kindergarten readiness, there will be a twenty-five percent increase in children’s school readiness by the end of the grant,” the application reads.
  • According to the application’s executive summary, “Together, these accomplishments will enable Colorado to achieve significant increases in overall kindergarten readiness as well as major decreases in the gap in readiness between children with high needs and their peers. By harnessing the investments from the RTT-ELC grant, Colorado will increase the chances that a child’s first day of kindergarten sets them on a successful path for life.”

Formal award of the consolation round grants is expected in December.

Colorado has struggled with R2T

The series of R2T competitions and consolation rounds has been a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s education policy.

While Colorado has participated in every round, and R2T goals have driven much of state education policy in recent years, the state has been successful only in consolation rounds.

Awards from the $500 million competitive round of the Early Learning Challenge last December went to, in scoring order, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Washington, Delaware, Ohio, Maryland, Minnesota, Rhode Island and California.

Colorado bid for $60 million but came in 12th, scoring 233.4 out of 300 points. That application set the same goals as in the new bid.

Other states in this year’s consolation round are Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin. Along with Colorado, all scored 75 percent or higher on the 300-point scoring system.

Last December, Colorado did win $17.9 million in another R2T “consolation round.” That money, half of which goes to participating school districts, is being used mostly to help implement the new educator evaluation system.

That award followed Colorado’s loss of a $175 million application in the second competitive round of R2T in 2010. The state also failed in a $377 million request during the first competition.

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