Kentucky was among six states that were announced Thursday as winners of a combined $280 million in government grants to improve early learning programs for babies, toddlers and preschoolers.
The White House announced on Thursday the winners of a Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grant to support early learning and development reform agendas. The winning states must show a willingness to carry out sweeping improvements to programs focused on children from birth to age 5.
Kentucky's new $44.3 million Race to the Top grant will jump-start learning, support parents and improve early learning programs for thousands of Kentucky preschoolers, Gov. Steve Beshear said.
"This $44 million grant represents one of the largest single investments in Kentucky's students — and it's targeted specifically to our youngest students, who will carry the positive impact of these programs throughout their school careers," Beshear said. "This is an unprecedented opportunity to make the large-scale improvements in early childhood education that we have long known are critical to student success, but have always been shelved because of lack of funding."
In October, Kentucky submitted a more than 1,000-page grant proposal, outlining the Kentucky All-STARS plan (Accelerating Learning Statewide through an Advanced Rating System). Kentucky's plan was among 17 entries submitted for the Race to the Top funds.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said quality early childhood education can mean the difference between success and failure for kids — especially those from low-income families.
Better preparing young children for school has positive long-term effects on school achievement, whether a student is retained or placed in special education and ultimately whether he or she graduates from high school ready for college and career, Holliday said.
The other winning states were Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont. The winners were announced by the Education and Health and Human Services departments, which jointly administer the program.
This is the third time the early learning grants have been issued. Fourteen other states were previous winners. In total, nearly $1 billion in grants has been distributed.
"This investment is a down payment to support and implement high-quality early learning programs across the country," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. "There is still a lot more work for us to do."
The Obama administration has pushed to improve the quality and availability of early childhood programs. President Barack Obama has proposed using an increase in cigarette taxes to help fund universal preschool for 4-year-olds. HHS also implemented new rules requiring lower-performing Head Start programs to compete for funding as part of an effort to improve the quality of Head Start programs.