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Curry School Dean Criticizes VA for Skipping Grant to Support Ed - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Curry School Dean Criticizes VA for Skipping Grant to Support Education

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The dean of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education is blasting Governor Bob McDonnell's office for skipping a federal grant that could have funded preschool programs. Virginia's youngest students miss out on up to $45 million.

The dean and an attorney from the Charlottesville-based Legal Aid Justice Center criticize the commonwealth for failing to apply for the "Race to the Top" early learning challenge. 

The op-ed in Sunday’s Virginian Pilot newspaper questions the future of preschool in Virginia.

Melissa Klein prepares her preschool classroom on Monday’s teacher workday. Ms. Melissa's 3-year-old students get their first taste of school at Charlottesville’s Johnson Elementary School.

“We expose them to academics and learning and positive environments,” said Klein.

The city schools pay for preschool classes for low-income 3- and 4-year-olds through a combination of funding - including money from the Virginia Preschool Initiative.

“We have worked very hard to provide preschool experiences. We have to be creative and access the resources we have available to us,” said Sheila Sparks, Charlottesville City Schools’ preschool program coordinator.

That initiative is missing out on up to $45 million in federal "Race to the Top" funds. Virginia failed to apply for the grant this month. The governor's office blames - in part - a tight deadline.

“We really felt it was a missed opportunity,” said Bob Pianta, dean of University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education.

Pianta penned an op-ed, published Sunday, questioning the commonwealth's priorities. Pianta says Virginia’s decision to skip the race "shuts out" students from access to beneficial early education programs.

“We could have used this money to really ramp up on professional development supports and curriculum supports that would be available for teachers working with 3- and 4-year-old kids,” said Pianta.

Back in the classroom, Klein sees her 3-year-old students build a foundation for their education.

“They advance a lot - you'd be surprised. A year makes a lot of difference,” said Klein.

Governor McDonnell's office says it didn't want to commit the next governor to a major preschool initiative by applying for the "Race to the Top" grant.

Read the response from the governor's office below.

Governor Bob McDonnell's Office's response to op-ed piece: 

"The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grant was announced on August 28th . The announcement came with an extremely tight timeframe to respond with a due date for all submissions of October 16. This tight timeframe appears to be intended for specific states already committed to applying for the grant. Further compressing the time line was the need to review the Race to the Top-early Learning Challenge grant to determine whether the factors that led to Virginia's prior decisions not to apply remained in this latest round. The commitment of responding to this complex and intensive application process would have required Virginia to reallocate personnel and resources from other critical ongoing initiatives (eligibility modernization, adoption, etc.) Given that it appeared, from the compressed timeline, that the grant was really intended for other states that were already well underway in the process, we determined that making an application would not be a prudent court of action for the Commonwealth to undertake at this time.

"Additionally, the potential grant award was for only four years. No feasible approach was demonstrated that did not require ongoing costs or the addition of new staff beyond the grant's duration. Therefore Virginia could be stuck with costs that would outlast the federal grant.

"The timing of this particular Race to the Top grant is also difficult. Grants are expected to be awarded by December 31st. Applying for the Race to the Top grant would commit the next Governor to a major initiative requiring a significant commitment of staff time and resources lasting the duration of his administration. For that reason, we do not think it is advisable to commit the next administration to such a program without their having any input, and with the likelihood that state funds would be required to continue the program beyond the limited life of the federal grant, should it be secured."

- Taylor Keeney, Press Secretary for Governor Bob McDonnell

"Additionally, the potential grant award was for only four years. No feasible approach was demonstrated that did not require ongoing costs or the addition of new staff beyond the grant's duration. Therefore Virginia could be stuck with costs that would outlast the federal grant.

"The timing of this particular Race to the Top grant is also difficult. Grants are expected to be awarded by December 31st. Applying for the Race to the Top grant would commit the next Governor to a major initiative requiring a significant commitment of staff time and resources lasting the duration of his administration. For that reason, we do not think it is advisable to commit the next administration to such a program without their having any input, and with the likelihood that state funds would be required to continue the program beyond the limited life of the federal grant, should it be secured."

- Taylor Keeney, Press Secretary for Governor Bob McDonnell

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