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Conn. seeks 2d chance in new education funding competition

By Stephanie Reitz
Associated Press / September 9, 2011

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HARTFORD - Connecticut officials say they are shaking off last year’s rebuff of the state’s application for federal “Race to the Top’’ education grants and pursuing up to $50 million for early childhood education from the grant program’s next round.

US Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the program, the Early Learning Challenge, in May to help states coordinate and bolster their preschool programs, particularly for poor children who need the services the most and whose families can least afford them.

Connecticut education specialists, social service providers, prekindergarten program directors, parent group leaders, and dozens of other people gathered yesterday at the state Capitol to offer suggestions on ways to bolster Connecticut’s application.

It is due by Oct. 18, and Connecticut could receive up to $50 million over four years if selected later this year.

Education specialists in Connecticut and nationwide say early access to high-quality education is critical to preparing children for kindergarten, and that those who are unprepared often never catch up with their peers - a factor in wide achievement gaps between wealthy and poor students.

The federal grant money would be used to coordinate Connecticut’s existing early childhood education programs, set up better ways to ensure their quality and strength of their teaching staff, and expand them wherever necessary to reach the most disadvantaged children in the years before they start kindergarten.

“To waste any one of those years makes no sense at all,’’ Governor Dannel P. Malloy said. “Any time we deny some group of children the ability to meet their maximum - to be as good a student, as good a citizen, as good a worker as they possibly can be in this very competitive economic environment - we are failing that child.’’

Acting Education Commissioner George Coleman said the state’s previous work in early childhood education should help prove to the Obama administration that it is committed to everything it is including in its application, and that the money would be well spent.

Connecticut was among the first states to provide a subsidy to boost federal Head Start funds, and also has a longstanding school readiness program that provides state money to help fund more preschool slots for low-income children in struggling districts.

But officials acknowledged that part of the work includes letting go of disappointment and disagreements over why Connecticut’s previous Race to the Top applications were rejected.

All of its neighboring states won multimillion-dollar grants last year in the federal program’s earlier rounds. Connecticut developed a sweeping proposal to overhaul its high school curriculum requirements with the intention of funding them with Race to the Top money, but had to suspend many of the plans.