Mid-course in its K-1 Race to the Top, Hawaii also now plans to join a second federal Race to the Top grant competition, this one geared toward children from birth to five years old.

U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono was instrumental in lobbying for an early childhood component to the high-profile grant series, and Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced on Tuesday that the state will apply for the “Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge.”

Awards will go to the states leading the way in implementing comprehensive early learning education reform. If Hawaii wins, it is eligible for up to $50 million, a cap based on the state’s share of the national population of children in the target age group who come from low-income families.

Abercrombie has repeatedly said that educating the pre-kindergarten population is a top priority for him, and earlier this year appointed Terry Lock as the state’s first Early Childhood Coordinator. Lock will take leadership over the state’s grant application, which the governor says will dovetail with Hawaii’s existing Race to the Top grant for elementary, high school and college students.

“We are investing in our young children so that their current and future wellbeing is not an afterthought,” said Gov. Abercrombie in a press release on Tuesday. “The pursuit of this opportunity will pull everyone together to focus on a common goal. The competition for this funding will be fierce, but our Administration is committed to working with the community to make permanent changes that will improve the lives of our keiki.”

According to the release, the Early Learning Challenge grant competition will support states’ efforts to:

  1. Increase the number and percentage of low-income and disadvantaged children in each age group of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who are enrolled in high-quality early learning programs;
  2. Design and implement an integrated system of high-quality early learning programs and services;
  3. Address the health, behavioral, and developmental needs of high-need children to improve school readiness; and
  4. Ensure that any use of assessments conforms to the recommendations of the National Research Council’s reports on early childhood.

Hawaii’s application will also build on strategies in the “Framework for a Comprehensive Early Childhood System,” written by the Hawaii Early Learning Council in December 2010. The Legislature created the council in 2008 to administer the state’s early learning system, which includes elements like health services and parent education.

Hawaii has already sent its notice of intent to compete in the Early Learning Challenge, applications will be available this summer and state recipients will be selected by the end of the year.

About the Author