The Obama administration plans to spend $500-million to help states expand innovative early-learning and child-care programs, the bulk of which are operated by nonprofits.
The new fund, called the Early Learning Challenge, will consume most of the $700-million that was allocated by Congress in April for Race to the Top, the grants program to help states improve the quality of their schools.
Like previous Race to the Top competitions, the Early Learning Challenge will award grants directly to states. The program will be administered jointly by the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services.
Many of the details about how the program will work will not be revealed until late summer. However, the administration said in a statement that states will be encouraged to make it easier for kids from needy families to get access to programs, to align their child-care and education programs, and create “robust evaluation systems.”
The federal government now provides more than $7-billion annually for Head Start early-learning programs and more than $5-billion for child care.
“Our goal is to transform disconnected programs with uneven quality and access into a coordinated system,” Arne Duncan, the education secretary, said in announcing the program.
Based on my conversations with administration officials, I expect the program will also encourage states to build, or further develop, systems to rate the quality of early-childhood programs. The administration has already said that low-performing Head Start programs will need to prove their effectiveness to get more money.
One senior administration official said the agencies are hoping to get foundations to provide money for the program, as they did for the Education Department’s Investing in Innovation and Promise Neighborhoods programs.
The grants will be awarded by December 31. The administration has not yet decided how many grants will be awarded or how large they will be. In the meantime, it is seeking ideas on a Department of Education blog.