Kentucky among 9 states that may compete for millions in education funding

Kentucky and eight other states may compete for $200 million in federal educational funds in a third round of the Race to the Top program, Obama administration officials announced Wednesday in Washington.

All nine failed to win grants during two previous funding rounds.

In addition to Kentucky, the eligible states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and South Carolina. They could receive grants ranging from $10 million to $50 million, according to the administration.

Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, said Wednesday that state officials have not decided whether to apply. She said the criteria Washington might use to pick winners are not yet known.

"We really haven't had time to look at it yet to see if it's worthwhile," Gross said. "Depending on what the criteria are, that might influence us as to whether we apply."

Kentucky lost out in the first two rounds of Race to the Top mainly because the state has no provision for charter schools. If charters remain a key requirement in the third round, it might not be beneficial for Kentucky to apply, Gross said.

Kentucky had hoped to win almost $200 million in the first round in spring 2010.

With nine states competing for a total of $200 million in the third round, "we're not talking about a huge pile of money," Gross said.

On the other hand, Kentucky still needs money to implement Senate Bill 1, the education-reform program that kicks in for the 2011-12 school year.

"State funding remains tight, so any additional funding that we could access would be worthwhile," Gross said. "Money is money."

Gross said states apparently would be able to apply for grants this fall, and winners probably would be announced in early 2012. Details haven't been released.

In Washington, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also announced the Obama administration plans to distribute millions in education grants through an "Early Learning Challenge" aimed at encouraging states to boost education for young children.

That money apparently would be included under the Race to the Top umbrella.

Administration officials said they want states to improve access to high-quality early learning programs for low-income and disadvantaged young children, and to eliminate early childhood programs that do little more than baby-sit students.

"We want to dramatically move this needle and support breakthrough work that really changes the quality of the early learning programs across America," Duncan said.

Cindy Heine, interim director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, said Kentucky should be well-positioned to compete for funding because it has programs in place to promote early childhood learning.

"Early childhood programs are especially important in a state like Kentucky with areas of high poverty," she said. "If we provide quality programs for children before kindergarten, they're going to be much better prepared for success when they reach kindergarten."