Policy Resource

Draft Early Learning Challenge Guidance Hits the Street!

Jul 1, 2011

This morning, the Department of Education posted a draft executive summary of the Request for Proposals for the $500 million in Early Learning Challenge funds made available through Race to the Top.

Depending on their size, states will be able to apply for between $50 and $100 million to increase access of high-needs children to high-quality early learning and development programs and build state systems for improving quality across early childhood settings. The program will be jointly administered by the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. Look for the final version in a Notice for Applications in the Federal Register later this summer.

Once again, the Departments are using an informal, web-based process to obtain input. Over the next week, infant-toddler advocates should read the summary and weigh in if they have comments about whether the needs of very young children could be better addressed. But act quickly—comments will only be accepted until 5:00 pm EDT on Monday, July 11. Here’s how it works: Go to www.ed.gov/early-learning/elc-draft-summary on the Department of Education website. There you will find the draft executive summary to download. In addition, you can access different sections of the document and post comments as well as view the comments of others.

In the introduction to the summary, the Departments underscore their intent to “support breakthrough work” and seek applications “that demonstrate courage, commitment, capacity, and creativity.” The highlights of the proposed application include:

  • Two absolute priorities, or requirements that states must meet: One requires states to use Early Learning and Development Standards to inform other components such as program standards, curriculum, assessment, and professional development as well as to have a plan to administer kindergarten entry assessments by the 2014-2015 school year. The other requirement is to implement and validate a Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System (TQRIS).
  • A competitive priority, or area for which a state may receive additional points as its application is scored: A state must have or plan to have a licensing and inspection system that covers all programs caring for two or more children and all licensed programs must participate in the TQRIS.
  • Two invitational priorities in which the Departments are interested, but states don’t get extra points for addressing them: One such priority would look at a State’s plan to build on improved early learning outcomes during the early elementary years. The other would look at private sector support for the State’s plan.
  • Four areas of selection criteria on which reviewers will focus and judge how well states have met them: (1) Successful State Systems, including an ambitious reform agenda, past commitment and investment, interagency coordination, and data systems; (2) Promoting Early Learning and Development Outcomes for Children, including standards, assessment, kindergarten entry assessment, addressing health, behavioral, and developmental needs, and engaging families; (3) High-Quality, Accountable Programs, including a common, statewide set of tiered program standards, a plan to maximize participation, and a system for rating, monitoring, and improving; (4) a Great Early Childhood Education Workforce, including knowledge and competencies, credentials, and support for early childhood educators in improving their knowledge and skills.

As you read this somewhat dry (but pretty lucid for a government RFP) document, stop and think about what it represents: a chance to put in place, in a systemic way, improvements the early childhood field has long been working toward incrementally, to really have a shot at applying what we know about supporting early learning and development of at-risk children in a fairly big way. It’s actually pretty amazing. In this grim budget era, the Early Learning Challenge is indeed a bright spot.

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