Just minutes after an earthquake shook Washington, DC, Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, announced the release of the final application for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, the $500 million State-level competitive initiative which seeks to support coordinated birth through five programs to support early learning.
CEC was pleased that children with disabilities and the systems that support them were included in many provisions of Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) application, such as facilitating interagency coordination and supporting an increased focus on identifying and addressing the health, behavioral, and developmental needs of children with high needs to improve school readiness. This inclusion reinforces the need for systems serving young children to become better coordinated.
However, CEC remains concerned with provisions included in the application that require states to demonstrate how they will use existing funding streams to support this initiative. As CEC noted in its response to the proposed application criteria last month, currently IDEA programs serving infants, toddlers, and preschool students with disabilities (Part C and Part B sec. 619) continue to be underfunded. In fact, funding for both programs has declined in recent years, while the number of children served continues to rise, thereby making it difficult to stretch the current investment to cover new initiatives.
Additionally, CEC is concerned about the required plan to have a kindergarten entry assessment for all children entering kindergarten by 2014-15 school year. While the application notes that such an assessment would have to be valid, reliable, and appropriate for children with disabilities, CEC remains concerned that a onetime snap-shot of a child is not an adequate way to measure a child’s knowledge and functional capabilities. It is important that teams conduct comprehensive, universally designed, and authentic assessment and ongoing monitoring of all children’s development and learning. Team members need a clear understanding of all children’s current skills and abilities to ensure access and participation, and to develop appropriate learning opportunities.
Read full response here - Download CEC Race to the Top Letter
The RTTT-ELC application focuses on the following five key areas with applicants able to accumulate 300 points:
- Core Area: Successful State Systems ( 65 points)
- Core Area: High-Quality, Accountable Programs (75 points)
- Focused Investment Area: Promoting Early Learning and Development Outcomes for Children (60 points)
- Focused Investment Area: A Great Early Childhood Education Workforce (40 points)
- Focused Investment Area: Measuring Outcomes and Progress (40 points)
(*An additional 20 points are provided for completion of a rubric table)
The application defines “Core Areas,” as components of the application of which applicants are required to respond to all selection criteria. “Focused Investment Areas” topics that the applicant will direct targeted attention to specific activities that are relevant to their State’s context.
The bulk of the possible points scored in an application comes as part of the High-Quality, Accountable Programs core area. To complete this area of the application, States must detail how they are:
- Developing and adopting a common, statewide Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System.
- Promoting participation in the State’s Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System.
- Rating and monitoring Early Learning and Development Programs.
- Promoting access to high-quality Early Learning and Development Programs for Children with High Needs.
- Validating the effectiveness of the State Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System.
States interested in receiving a grant will have to complete the application by October 19th with awards announced in December. Grants awarded are expected to be between $50 - $100 million. To assist States in preparing applications and to respond to questions, ED and HHS intend to host a Webinar for potential applicants on September 1, 2011. In this session, the Departments will provide applicants with an orientation to the application.
The Departments also plan to host a Technical Assistance Planning Workshop for potential applicants on September 13, 2011 in Washington, DC via videoconferencing.