It remains unclear whether Florida will be eligible to apply for a federal Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grant.

The Miami Herald and health care activists in the state have recently suggested Florida may be ineligible to apply for a new grant from Race to the Top’s early learning reform initiative. The program will be jointly administered by the federal departments of Education and Health and Human Services.

Concern over Florida’s eligibility is related to the state’s rejection of home visiting grants funded through the Affordable Care Act. The grant money would have gone to Healthy Families Florida, a “statewide system of voluntary, community-based home visitation services.” These programs “provide free home visiting services to parents expecting a baby and parents of newborns,” with the aim of reducing child abuse and neglect.

State legislators have said they rejected monies from the Affordable Care Act because Florida is currently the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the federal government over the very law that allocates the funds. House Speaker Dean Cannon’s office said the Legislature is “suspicious towards federal monies,” although the Legislature did accept abstinence education funds available through the Affordable Care Act.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s preliminary criteria for eligibility, the rejection of the home visiting grants means the state is poised to possibly lose out on this new Race to the Top opportunity. However, the criteria are not final. Therefore, no one knows for sure if Florida is out of the running.

In a release explaining the Race to the Top program, the Education Department specifically mentions acceptance of the Affordable Care Act home visiting grants as a requirement.

According to the release (.pdf):

A State that receives a grant must meet the following requirements:

(a) The State will continue to participate in the programs authorized by Section 619, Part B, and Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1419, seq.1431 et seq.), in the Child Care and development Fund (CCDF) program (pursuant to the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act (42 U.S.C. 9858 et seq.) and Section 418 of the Social security Act (42 U.S.C. 618) and) program, and the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program (Section 511 of Title V of the Social Security Act, as added by Section 2951 of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-148) for the duration of this grant. [Emphasis added.]

If the final criteria turn out to be the same as the preliminary criteria, Florida could face a potential conflict. However, at the moment, no one is sure what the final criteria will be.

Deborah Higgins, information specialist with the Florida Department of Education, says that because the final application has not been released yet, the agency has “no confirmation of any requirements at this point.”

According to the Department of Education’s release on the program, a final application for the Race to the Top grant will be unveiled in the coming weeks.

Florida’s ineligibility for participation in the program would represent a big loss for early education in the state.

Liz Utrup, assistant press secretary at the U.S. Education Department, says “the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge is a critical investment that will support states with the strongest plans to align and increase access to high-quality early learning programs.”

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