Third time is no charm in bid for Race to the Top money

Connecticut officials were informed Thursday that their third application for federal Race to the Top funds has been rejected.

“We are bummed,” said Liz Donohue, the administration’s point person for the application. “We are not among the finalists.”

The Malloy administration had hoped to land $50 million to implement a variety of initiatives to try to improve early education in the state. Those plans included rating some early child care programs, assessing students when they enter kindergarten, adding an additional 1,000 spots in state-funded preschools and increased education requirements of those teaching these children.

Donohue said the intention still is to move forward with these initiatives, “but not at the same pace… We will figure out how to. The governor’s commitment to early education is unchanged.”

Malloy was highly critical of the state’s first two failed Race to the Top bids for $175 million for primary and secondary education reforms, saying the state “embarrassed ourselves” with subpar applications. Most of those reforms have since been delayed.

In a statement, Malloy called the application “strong” and plans to use the nearly 289-page application as a “road map as we move forward on education reform.”

He placed blame for this failed attempt on previous administrations during a press conference Thursday.

He said because the state has failed to make the needed reforms over the last 12 years, “I think we are being punished for it… Sooner or later we are going to dig ourselves out of the hole.”

Advocates have expressed concerns about the hodgepodge of state agencies coordinating the state’s early childhood programs and have lobbied for a new agency. Connecticut has more 3- and 4-year olds attending preschool than any state except New Jersey, according to the College Board’s annual progress report.

The state was competing against 34 other states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico this time around.

Allan B. Taylor, chairman of of the State Board of Education, said he is disappointed that the state failed to land fund this time around and is unsure what the next steps will be to make these initiatives a reality.

In a statement announcing the winners, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, said “all applicants showed tremendous dedication and drive to build stronger foundations and create greater opportunities for more children.”

The winners include California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington.