State wins preschool grant

DENVER - Colorado's youngest citizens got a boost Thursday when the state won a $29.9 million grant to improve early childhood education.

Four other states also won grants in this round of Race to the Top, the Obama Administration's initiative that gives money to states that undertake education reforms.

"That's about $30 million that will help us fulfill our commitment to young children in the state," said Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia.

Every year, about 65,000 Colorado kids enter kindergarten, but 16,000 of them are already behind their peers - an achievement gap that persists throughout a child's school life.

"It starts long before children ever show up at the schoolhouse door for the first time," Garcia said.

Much of the grant will be used to pay for better training for teachers. It also will pay to set common guidelines and standards for all licensed child care centers.

The state also plans to expand its kindergarten assessment to all children, to make sure each kid's personal needs are evaluated as soon as they start school.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said that people told his team that preschool is a priority during the recent TBD Colorado listening tour.

"One of the most consistent things we heard around the state was the belief in early childhood education and how important it is," Hickenlooper said.

Colorado has had a rough history with Race to the Top. After Obama publicly called out Colorado as a model of education reform, his Department of Education bypassed Colorado for the first and most lucrative grant.

To help compete in the second round, the Legislature then passed a bill that makes job protections for teachers dependent on how well their students perform. It was a wrenching debate, especially for Democrats, but the Department of Education again snubbed Colorado for the second round of Race to the Top in 2010.

In addition to Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin also won awards in this round.