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Scott wants Fla. to apply for Race to the Top

MIAMI – Florida Gov. Rick Scott wants the state to compete in the next round of the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top competition, which could award up to $100 million to improve early learning.

To apply for the grant, however, state legislators must approve a budget amendment accepting $3.4 million in federal funding for a home visiting program for at-risk families. The Florida Department of Health requested the grant in the last legislative session, but it was not funded.

Ben Wolf, legislative analyst at the Florida House of Representatives, said at the time there wasn’t knowledge it was tied to Race to the Top. The issue will go before the legislative budget commission Sept. 7.

The competition is the third round of the Department of Education’s Race to the Top initiative, which has spurred education reform around the U.S. Florida was awarded $700 million in the second round of the competition, funds that are now going toward creating new teacher evaluation systems, improving the lowest performing schools and other reforms that are designed to boost student achievement and close the achievement gap.

The new round of the competition will award $500 million to states that have been leaders in early education, those programs that are designed to help prepare the youngest children for school. Studies have shown that children from disadvantaged backgrounds frequently enter kindergarten and first grade already behind their more affluent peers. Proponents say early education programs can improve long-term performance.

The early learning grant is aimed at expanding access to low-income children and creating high quality services and assessments. In Florida, those funds would go toward improving the quality of school readiness programs, as well as the state’s voluntary pre-kindergarten and Head Start programs, said Amy Graham, a spokeswoman for Scott.

The Republican governor has rejected some federal funding in the past, including more than $2 billion to construct a high speed rail from Tampa to Orlando. His office has said he is opposed to federal funds that create a recurring expense the state would eventually have to pay for.

“While it makes sense for Florida to join all of the other eligible states in taking advantage of these funds, it is important that everyone understands these are not recurring funds and should not be relied on to create new government programs/positions,” Graham said in an email.