The administration hopes to “transform early learning programs and services from a patchwork of disconnected services into a coordinated system that truly and consistently prepares the nation’s young people for success in school and life,” Duncan said.

“Helping young children prepare for kindergarten is about more than teaching them letters and colors,” Sebelius said. She added that children need to be healthy and families should be engaged in their children’s education.

A current proposal would require low-performing Head Start programs to compete for continued federal funding, she noted.

Sebelius says that the administration is taking a “holistic” approach, focusing on kids’ health as well as their education.

“By pushing everyone to raise their game, we help to foster innovation across our early-childhood programs,” she said.

Beginning on May 25, the public is invited to provide input, including data and relevant research, by visiting http://www.ed.gov/blog/2011/05/rtt-early-learning-challenge/.

Guidance, eligibility, range of awards and number of grants will be announced in coming weeks. The application will be released later this summer, with grants awarded to states no later than Dec. 31, 2011.

The administration also announced that nine finalist states that did not win grants in the earlier, first two rounds of Race to the Top for grades K-12 can compete for $200 million in grants in the next round, ranging from $10 million to $50 million. The states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and South Carolina.