Today, after the White House announced Rhode Island will receive up to $50 million in federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge funds to help boost Rhode Island's early childhood care and pre-school programs, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) -- who strongly supported the state's efforts -- congratulated the state and commended the Obama Administration for awarding the funds to Rhode Island.
Reed and Whitehouse supported the creation of Race to the Top funds as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, as well as the expansion to include early childhood care and education programs in the Fiscal Year 2011 Appropriations law.
Rhode Island was one of 9 states to win the competitive "Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge" grants. The others are California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, and Washington. The goal of the program is to help build statewide systems that improve all early learning programs, including child care, Head Start centers and public or private preschools.
This summer, Rhode Island applied for up to $50 million over four years in federal funds from the $500 million "Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge" that would help child care, preschool, and other early childhood care and education programs improve and better serve high need students. Rhode Island was among 35 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico that submitted applications for a share of the federal funds.
"This is great news for Rhode Island. The state is really making strides when it comes to improving our early learning and development programs and these federal funds will accelerate those efforts. We must make pre-school and child care programs more accessible and effective, especially for the children with the greatest needs. The key is collaboration. If we can continue the strong spirit of collaboration to put these funds to work, I think the state can fundamentally reshape early childhood education here in Rhode Island and become a national model for a coordinated, well-developed early learning system," said Reed.
"Early learning programs help ensure that our kids get off to the best start possible before they enter school," said Whitehouse. "Our state is in a strong position to use these federal funds swiftly and effectively, and I'm glad the Obama Administration recognized Rhode Island's leadership by awarding us one of these grants."
In the past, Rhode Island has lagged other states when it comes to investing in early childhood education. Until 2009, Rhode Island was one of just a dozen states throughout the country without a public pre-K program. But the state has undertaken important reforms and its application mapped out an ambitious plan to improve the way early childhood programs are delivered, expand the number of students they serve, and upgrade the quality of the programs.
In supporting the state's application, Reed and Whitehouse wrote: "Rhode Island's comprehensive and ambitious application demonstrates the State's commitment and capacity to build a statewide system that raises the quality of early learning and development programs. These programs have the remarkable potential to improve the health, social, emotional, and cognitive outcomes for our young children, enhance school readiness, and help close the wide school-readiness gap that exists between children with high needs and their peers at the time they enter kindergarten."
Last year, Rhode Island was one of just 12 states nationwide to win the first round of Race to the Top funding to improve K-12 education. The state received $75 million over four years. One of Rhode Island's key goals is to use the additional funds to help increase students proficiency in math.
Rhode Island's application, and a full list of all "Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge" applications, are available here.
Now that Rhode Island and eight other states have been named winners of the "Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge" grant, the U.S. Department of Education will make a final determination for the exact funding level for each state. Rhode Island is eligible for an award of up to $50 million. The final award amount is expected to be determined next week.
The other states that won are eligible for awards of up to: $100 million (California), $70 million (North Carolina and Ohio), $60 million (Washington), and $50 million (Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Minnesota).