You Can Have Your Say, But Only If You Act Now!

July 8, 2011 | By Thompson Education | Post a Comment

(This post was written by Travis Hicks, one of Thompson’s federal education policy editors, and originally appeared on Title I-Derland, Thompson’s blog on federal K-12 education.) I understand the need for expediency when pushing out criteria for a competition like the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, but only allowing 11 days for public comment — with the first three encompassing a holiday weekend — seems a little tight.

Yet that’s what happened. The U.S. Department of Education held a conference call with reporters at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 30 (embargoing all information until the next day), but set the date for final public comment at July 11. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to recognize that’s a quick turnaround for public comment, especially considering how many people may have missed the announcement because they already were traveling for the July 4th weekend and how many more planned vacations that will run through July 9th or 10th.

To be fair, ED officials made clear that they don’t have much time. The plan is to unveil a final application for eligible states in August that will be due in October. From there, the goal is to get the money out to states by the start of 2012.

Anyway, a little bit about the program for those who may have been on vacation over the weekend. Developed in partnership between ED and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the new $500 million Early Learning Challenge program is intended to help states spur innovation that increases the access of disadvantaged children to early learning programs, with a particular focus on creating a better alignment between pre-K and K-12 programs.

The goal, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in announcing the program in late May, is to convert early learning services from the current “patchwork” of programs to a “coordinated system.” For instance, eligible states may want to coordinate funding provided under Head Start, Title I, state-funded preschool programs and HHS’ Child Care and Development Fund, among other sources.

The proposed competition criteria are centered on two “absolute priorities” (using early learning standards and kindergarten-entry assessments to promote school readiness; and using tiered quality rating and improvement systems to promote school readiness), one “competitive preference priority” (including all early learning and development programs in the tiered quality rating and improvement systems) and two “invitational priorities” (sustaining program effects in elementary school; and encouraging public sector support). The applications, which will be peer reviewed before Duncan gives the final thumbs up or down, will be weighed against 17 selection criteria.

States will be competing for awards ranging from $50 million to $100 million, depending on the size of the state and the number of final applicants.

Interested persons can comment on the proposed criteria here (if they hurry). Again, all comments are due by 5 p.m. Monday, July 11.

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