Virginia declines to apply for Race to the Top funding

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia officials have decided not to pursue a multimillion-dollar federal grant aimed at improving early childhood learning and development.

Virginia was eligible to receive up to $45 million in the latest round of the Race to the Top program.

The decision to not apply for the grant is based on several reasons, including a tight frame, Tucker Martin, a spokesman for Gov. Bob McDonnell, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The deadline to apply for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grant, which was announced in August, is Oct. 16.

There also were concerns that Virginia would have to pay costs beyond the four-year program, Martin said.

"Further compressing the timeline 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," Martin told the newspaper.

He said the grant appeared intended for states that were already under way in the process and that the timing was difficult because the 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."

About half of Virginia's 3- to 4-year-olds were not enrolled in nursery school or preschool as of 2009-11, according to the Kids Count report from Voices for Virginia's Children, based on Census Bureau data.

Virginia unsuccessfully applied for a previous Race to the Top grant and eventually skipped the program rather than drop the state's Standards of Learning.

First announced in 2009, Race to the Top encourages states to find innovative ways to further learning, increase access to effective teachers and improve academic standards. It has had several incarnations, including grants to states, grants geared toward early-learning programs, and funding awarded directly to school districts.