State gets $51.7 million to boost early education

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Pennsylvania will receive $51.7 million over the next four years in federal Race to the Top funds to support early learning initiatives.

The state is one of six to receive funding, out of 16 states that applied.

“High-quality early learning programs are known to improve student achievement and prepare students to enter kindergarten,” Gov. Tom Corbett said. “This investment will help us to further improve and expand our existing quality programs.”

One component of the grant will be Early Childhood Education Community Innovation Zones that will go to 50 of the lowest performing elementary schools in the state.

Schools will have to put together proposals to compete for the funding, said Carolyn Dumaresq, acting secretary of education. State officials have not yet decided how many schools would be eligible to compete for the funds, or what the dollar value of each grant would be, she said.

Funds from the grant will also go toward improving access to high-quality early learning programs for children with high needs, developing a no-cost universal Kindergarten Entry Inventory and operating four Governor’s Institutes for nearly 3,000 pre-K to third grade educators to share strategies and best practices.

This marks the state’s first success in the competitive Race to the Top federal grant program: In 2010, Pennsylvania unsuccessfully sought $400 million for general education needs. In 2011, Pennsylvania’s application did not rate high enough to win $41 million for early learning.

The state’s grant this year shows how far the state has come, said Ron Cowell, president of the Education Policy and Leadership Center, noting that a dozen years ago, Pennsylvania was one of fewer than 10 states to provide no funding for early childhood education.

“This is significant — it’s a reminder about the fact that Pennsylvania has come a long way in the last 12 years,” he said. “During the Rendell administration and continuing through the Corbett administration, they began to make a significant investment of state money and began to pay attention to quality issues.”

Anya Sostek: or 412-263-1308.

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