A new federal program aims to close the early learning achievement gap.

States can qualify for grants up to $100 million under a new federal grant program for early learning.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) released more details July 1 on the Early Learning Challenge, the third round of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top state education competition. The new competition was announced in May.

Requirements to win the money include tracking students to ensure they are ready for kindergarten and expanding access to more poor children.

Roberto Rodriguez, who serves as Special Assistant to President Obama for Education in the White House Domestic Policy Council, said the fund will focus on five areas:

  • How the U.S. can do more to boost the quality of early learning programs in all states
  • How educators can measure outcomes for kids and pay attention to those outcomes, rather than just measuring input
  • How the nation can do more to ensure that its programs really are building toward success for kids
  • How to build the best early childhood education workforce
  • How to align early learning programs to a common set of standards and a common way of assessing progress

“Our goal is to produce the highest percentage of college-educated people in the world,” Rodriguez said. “We know learning begins at birth, but we also know there is a vast inequity in the quality of early learning programs.”