Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) announced that the U.S. Department of Education has awarded a major Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant to the Washington State Department of Early Learning. This award will allow Washington state to continue investing in high-quality early learning to make sure more children across the state enter school ready and able to learn. The state applied for $60 million, and while award amounts from the $500 million pool have not yet been released, it is expected that the state's award will be in that range. Washington state was among fewer than ten award winners from the 37 applications.
"This is a major victory for children and families across Washington state," said Senator Patty Murray. "This award will help make sure that our state's children get the support they need to enter kindergarten ready to learn and ready to succeed.
"As a former preschool teacher, I've seen first-hand how investments in early learning programs pay off for our children. And I know that students who have access to high-quality early childhood education are more prepared for elementary school and have a better shot at getting their educational career started on the right track.
"I was proud to fight hard to make sure that early learning was eligible for Race to the Top funding. And I want to congratulate the state of Washington and the Department of Early Learning for their successful application and continued commitment to comprehensive early childhood education."
As a senior member of the Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing education funding, Senator Murray worked to include language in a federal funding bill that gave the Department of Education the authority to use Race to the Top funding for early learning. Murray spoke to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in early May to push him to exercise that authority and use a significant amount of the RTTT total for early learning. Duncan announced the $500 million Early Learning Challenge later that month.
Murray also led a letter in September signed by six other members of the Washington state Congressional delegation to advocate for Washington state's grant application (text below).
Earlier this month, Murray called Secretary Duncan to personally lay out the strengths of Washington state's application. She pointed to her state's commitment to early education reform as demonstrated by their creation of a 10 year Washington Early Learning Plan, as well as the strong partnerships between stakeholders dedicated to supporting the goals of the application.
Below is the text of the letter Murray led to urge Duncan to award Washington state an Early Learning Challenge grant:
September 29, 2011
Dear Secretary Duncan and Secretary Sebelius,
We are writing in strong support of the State of Washington's Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RT3-ELC) application.
As you know, Washington state is recognized as a national leader in early education reform and improvement. Since the creation of the Department of Early Learning in 2006, our students have consistently ranked above the national average on national measures of reading, mathematics and science achievement in early grades. Nonetheless, Washington state recognizes that more needs to be done to close persistent achievement gaps and provide children with exceptional early education opportunities to ensure every child can receive a high-quality public education from birth through college.
Washington's RT3-ELC application builds on our state's proven commitment to early education reform by creating a ten-year Washington Early Learning Plan. This plan was developed by countless stakeholders and experts across the state and will ensure early learning policy and funding decisions are implemented in a strategic and timely manner, with the overarching goal of building a statewide system that supports school readiness for all children. The application emphasizes three ambitious yet achievable goals: school readiness for all children, especially those with high needs; supporting high-quality programs and measuring results; and ensuring successful transitions to kindergarten for children and families.
Washington's RT3-ELC application aims to accomplish these goals by building on recent reforms through the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS) program, which is an innovative kindergarten transition model. WaKIDS will align the practices of early learning professionals and kindergarten teachers to support smooth transitions for all children. It will also help to inform decisions about policy and investments while encouraging families to become partners in their children's education.
Additionally, our state is working to improve quality and accountability measures in early learning settings through the implementation of a pilot Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). Thrive by Five, Washington's public-private partnership for early learning, conducted a two-year field test in five communities in Washington state to evaluate the model prior to its implementation. In the next year, the state's QRIS will include all 7,400 licensed child care programs and will align all key early learning programs and investments to drive QRIS participation. We believe these important initiatives will not only serve as a powerful catalyst for dramatic change in Washington, but also will allow our state to continue to serve as a national model for high-quality, evidence-based early learning programs.
Throughout the state, we have seen parents, teachers, school leaders, support staff, policy makers and business leaders working together to make early education reforms a reality. These existing partnerships demonstrate Washington's strong dedication to implementing and sustaining these improvements for lasting gains. We strongly believe a RT3-ELC grant will help our state make critical progress towards closing the preparation gap, strengthening accountability and support for children, parents, and early learning professionals, and give us the data to help every child reach their highest potential.
We appreciate the leadership that you have shown to make this unprecedented opportunity available to states and respectfully request that you strongly consider Washington state's application.
Senator Patty Murray
Senator Maria Cantwell
Congressman Norm Dicks
Congressman Jim McDermott
Congressman Adam Smith
Congressman Jay Inslee
Congressman Rick Larsen