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Connecticut Loses Bid For $50 Million Race To The Top Grant

Kathleen Megan

December 15, 2011

For the third time, Connecticut has lost its bid for a federal Race to the Top grant this one to improve educational programs for very young children.

Connecticut had applied to the U.S. Department of Education program for $49.9 million.

Word came late Thursday afternoon that Connecticut was out of the running. The winners are to be announced Friday at 10 a.m.

Liz Donohue, the Malloy administration's policy director and lead administrator on the application, said 35 states applied for a grant. She did not know how many would receive one. "We're disappointed, but we'll keep on working," Donohue said. "We'll move forward."

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has promised to dedicate the next legislative session to education, expressed disappointment over the news.

In a prepared statement, Malloy said that "high-quality education for all of Connecticut's children is a top priority for my administration, and we should be pleased with the strong application that we submitted; it will serve as a road map as we move forward on education reform."

Malloy added: "We were aware going in that we were at a disadvantage a lack of investment over the past decade meant that we did not have the infrastructure in place, or have a well-developed or coordinated early learning system. That will change. This federal funding would have accelerated our efforts, but we are determined to move forward to improve early learning in Connecticut."

Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, who has been a leader on early childhood issues, said that although everyone is disappointed, "the time and energy spent on this is not lost because the grant really forced us to come up with a plan. We are going to move forward with the strategies we came up with to improve the early childhood system."

"It would have been easier with the funding," Bye said, "but we will continue to look for opportunities for federal funding."

Patrick Riccards, chief executive officer of ConnCan, a nonprofit education reform group, said it was not surprising that Connecticut lost this round.

Riccards, who has worked with other states on Race to the Top applications in the past, said: "I think we have to remember we were going up against other states that had really put in significant time and effort into developing their first two applications. They came ready to play when the third round came out.

"For us, we were essentially starting from scratch. The first two rounds we went to the plate with the bat on our shoulder," Riccards said. "At least this time, we went down swinging. We put forth a great effort."

"The first two rounds for Connecticut were a disaster," Riccards said. "In the first round when just about every state in the union applied, we left more than 100 blanks. It was not an application that anyone could take seriously."

"This was a strong application," Riccards said of the third try. "I think that Gov. Malloy and his team and the folks at [the Department of Education] really put together a thoughtful application."

While the first two Race to the Top programs were designed to reform the entire educational system from kindergarten through 12th grade this round was aimed at preparing young children for success, so that they arrive in kindergarten ready to learn.

The expectation was that Connecticut's Race to the Top plan would halve the number of children who enter kindergarten unprepared to learn; the state estimates that nearly one in four children are not prepared now.

Connecticut educators say that preparing students early will help close the achievement gap one of the largest in the country between well-to-do children and poor children, between white children and minority children, and between the suburbs and the cities.

Maggie Adair, executive director of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance, said the loss hurts but "we are confident that the governor is committed to early childhood and building a birth to 8 system."

"It's too early to hypothesize about why we didn't get it," she said, though she added that some states are ahead of Connecticut in the development of a quality assurance and improvement system for early childhood programs. "Connecticut has pieces of it."

Connecticut lost out on the first round of Race to the Top money in March 2010, when, Riccards said, almost all of the states applied but only two were awarded grants. The second time later that year Connecticut was among 39 applicants, and 10 received grants, Riccards said.

He said he expects six to eight winners to be announced Friday morning.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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