The race is on among states competing for a slice of the $500 million federal dollars set aside to improve early childhood education systems. In August, the U.S. Department of Education released the application for its Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, a competition to reward states that align the many players involved in early childhood to improve data and program quality assessments and expand access to more high-risk children.
What might this mean for Latino preschoolers? One way to look at this question is to see which states experts say are leading contenders to win a share of the money and note their Latino population. New America’s Early Ed Watch recently predicted some of the leading contenders based on their existing track records in early learning. Their projected likely winners are: Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Vermont.
Of these, Colorado and New Mexico are among the top ten states with the largest Latino populations. Pennsylvania is among the 16 states with Latino populations over 500,000. Oklahoma and the two small states of Iowa and Vermont are among those where Latinos are the largest minority. So nearly half of the likely contenders would appear to have especially strong interests in developing early childhood systems that support Latino preschoolers.
One challenge all the competitors will face is enticing family daycare centers to participate in state programs like Quality Rating and Improvement Systems, a star-rating system that usually comes with incentives for daycare providers to improve quality by training staff and making other improvements. While larger, center-based programs often participate in these systems, convincing mom-and-pop operators to get on board is much harder, and research tells us Latino children are more likely to be in family-based care than in center care.
And what about states with the largest Latino populations, like California, Texas and Florida? Unfortunately, at this time none of these looks likely to win, though Florida may be getting in the game. Last spring California eliminated its state Early Learning Advisory Council as a cost-cutting measure. Though the state may still apply for the challenge, without such a council in place they are less likely to be viewed as a serious contender. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has forsworn Race to the Top for ideological reasons. And though Florida won an earlier round of the competition, until recently the state has refused to participate in a required federal home visiting program that Florida lawmakers considered part of President Obama’s healthcare reform package. Until that situation changes Florida is not eligible to compete. But last week, Gov. Rick Scott signaled he wants the state to apply, so things might be changing.