Connecticut officials were notified that the state is not among the winners in the latest round of federal "Race to the Top" grants, an official with direct knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the decision ahead of a formal announcement Friday.
It was the second year in a row Connecticut was rejected by the highly competitive grant program, which calls on states to coordinate and improve education for children in the critical time before kindergarten. It places special focus on reaching poor children who need the services the most, but whose families can least afford them. Connecticut was competing with 34 other states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Connecticut's application promised to cut in half the percentage of its students who enter kindergarten unprepared, and also said the state will add 1,000 new state-funded preschool seats for needy children starting in July 2013 - whether or not it won the federal grant.
It's also making a push to reach more young children whose caregivers are family members and friends, and who might otherwise not get the benefit of early learning programs in more formal settings.
Officials who worked on Connecticut's application and its supporters said boosting early learning programs and preparing more students for kindergarten was within the state's grasp if it won the money to coordinate current programs, fill gaps where others are needed, and get the best teachers in place.
State officials said that what set Connecticut's application apart from other states was its push to reach more children whose caretakers are neighbors, relatives and family friends, and who might otherwise have little exposure to education programs before kindergarten. Officials estimate at least 40,000 of Connecticut's most high-need young children are in that situation.
Several programs are already in place to train those caregivers to prepare the children before kindergarten, but state and local officials say they know thousands of other children could be helped if they could reach them.
The state hopes to identify the youngsters through their families' participation in other state and federal programs, such as HUSKY health care; the Care 4 Kids childcare credit program; welfare and food stamp assistance; Birth to Three early intervention services and other programs.
At least 80,000 of Connecticut's 210,500 children ages 5 and younger are considered to have "high needs."
That means they are living in poverty, have a learning or developmental disability, come from homes in which English is not the primary language, or a combination. Many are in the state's poorest cities.
Although the state's investment in early learning programs has been climbing steadily over the last four years, the wide achievement gap between its wealthy and poor children is obvious, even in kindergarten - something the Race to the Top grant application was intended to address.
State-mandated assessments of young children show that in wealthy communities, about 95 percent of children are well-prepared when they enter kindergarten. In poor communities, it's 70 percent.