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Georgia awarded $51.7 Million Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge

ATLANTA — U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced this week that Georgia is one of six additional states — Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont — that will receive a total of $280 million in grant awards from the 2013 Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) fund.

The grants are designed to improve access to high-quality early learning and development programs throughout their states. Georgia will receive $51.7 million and will join the 14 existing state grantees who secured funding in the first two rounds, which began in 2011.

RTT-ELC has awarded more than $1 billion toward early learning endeavors and program innovations. The latest award provides funding for states to create a four-year early learning agenda that builds upon and strengthens their current early learning and development systems.

Georgia’s application focused on strengthening the state’s 20-year commitment to high-quality early learning with the goal of having all Georgia students reading on grade level by third grade.

Gov. Nathan Deal issued a statement Thursday about Georgia winning a share of the RTT-ELC grant.

“Increasing the percentage of Georgia students reading on grade level by the completion of third grade has been a top priority of my administration,” said Deal. “With this strategic investment in our state’s work, we will be able to ensure that more of our youngest students are positioned to meet this critical benchmark and thus improve our long-term economic competitiveness.”

Officials said RTT-ELC helps supplement systematic efforts by states to align, coordinate and improve the quality of existing early learning. The challenge helps states develop educational programs that support children from birth through age five.

Bobby Cagle, commissioner of Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, said the state’s plan for high-quality early education was created by hundreds of stakeholders across Georgia over the past three years.

“We look forward to making the work of these stakeholders a reality and maximizing the return on this substantial investment in our state’s youngest learners,” said Cagle.

Bright from the Start submitted the application to encompassed four strategies, including increasing effectiveness of early learning programs, expanding educational opportunities for workforce development, re-aligning education programs for statewide use and creating accountability measures.

Georgia Power Company executives submitted a letter of support for the grant.

In it, President and CEO Paul Bowers said that the state’s win “is also a win for Georgia’s economic development and the thousands of businesses in our state looking for a qualified and effective workforce.

“Georgia’s leaders understand that it is easier and much more cost effective to ‘get it right’ at the beginning of the education continuum than to help students ‘catch up’ through remediation in the middle or at the end of their academic careers,” said Bowers.

States may use RTT-ELC funds for such activities as: establishing culturally, linguistically and developmentally appropriate early learning; developing standards for school readiness in children from birth to kindergarten; ensuring a universal measure of accountability; improving state Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement Systems to inform parents about the quality of early learning programs; and promoting health and family engagement strategies.

Duncan said that, by investing in early learning through programs such as RTT-ELC, educators are able to “close achievement gaps, provide life-transforming opportunities for children and strengthen and build a thriving middle class.”

“Thanks to the leadership of governors, state officials and education advocates, these states have created plans to develop high-quality early learning systems that improve the quality of learning to provide our youngest citizens with the strong foundation they need for success in school and beyond,” said Duncan. “This investment is a down payment to support and implement high-quality early learning programs across the country. There is still a lot more work for us to do.”