Today, the U.S. Dept. of Education announced the winners of the third round of the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC), a $280 million innovative and competitive state-level grant program that aims to address the needs of our country’s most vulnerable children through improving early childhood education.

Six states were awarded with four-year grants ranging from $37.5 million to $75 million – Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont – out of the 16 states, along with Washington, D.C. that applied in October 2013. The Early Learning Challenge is a fully voluntary federal grant program that assists states in building more robust, effective and coordinated early learning systems. The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asked states to promote school readiness for children with high needs by focusing their applications on the following five areas:

  • Successful state systems
  • High-quality, accountable programs
  • Promoting early learning and development outcomes for children
  • A great early childhood education workforce
  • Measuring outcomes and progress

The awarding of the ELC grants comes at a time when states are making tremendous progress implementing innovative programs and building quality early childhood systems that reflect their unique needs. Not only do these grants encourage and reward state innovation and flexibility, but they also contribute to a collective effort to grow American families stronger by providing high-quality child care so children can learn while their parents work.

This new cohort of award winners will join 14 states – California, Delaware, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington and Wisconsin which have already received close to $633 million dollars in RTT-ELC grant funding.

Research from economists, social scientists and medical experts shows that comprehensive early childhood development – from birth to age five – yields substantial social and financial returns in higher education attainment, improved health outcomes and economic prosperity. These programs, which are proven to be particularly effective for disadvantaged children and their families, are the right investments we need to boost our economy and are being backed by business leaders, governors and state legislators, as well as seventy percent of voters who support expanded federal early childhood efforts that help states provide quality early learning opportunities to moderate and low income children.

After today, six additional states will have benefited from this state-federal partnership, which helps to build the foundation necessary to expand programs within states that are known to work.  We’re pleased to see winners from both “red” and “blue” states alike. States have clearly spoken about their interest in doing more to produce positive outcomes for children and families.

Today’s announcement is a locally-driven, competitive effort we can all be proud of and further reinforces the need for Congress to prioritize investments in high-quality early childhood education through the appropriations process, as well as a new federal early learning funding stream, such as the Strong Start for America’s Children Act to help states strengthen their most effective early childhood programs.