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Kentucky, 5 other states receive $280M in early learning grants

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Kentucky and five other states were announced Thursday as winners of a combined $280 million in government grants to improve early learning programs for babies, toddlers and preschoolers.

The winning states in the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge competition were Kentucky, Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont. The winners were announced by the Education and Health and Human Services departments, which jointly administer the program.

This is the third time these early learning grants have been issued. Fourteen other states were previous winners. In total, nearly $1 billion in grants has been distributed.

The winning states must show a willingness to carry out comprehensive improvements to programs focused on children from birth to age 5. In Michigan, for example, the plan includes expanding training opportunities for home child care providers. And in New Jersey, the state plans to develop a statewide quality rating improvement system called "Grow NJ Kids" to better inform parents about early learning programs.

"This investment is a down payment to support and implement high-quality early learning programs across the country," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. "There is still a lot more work for us to do."

The Obama administration has pushed to improve the quality and availability of early childhood programs. President Barack Obama has proposed using an increase in cigarette taxes to help fund universal preschool for 4-year-olds. HHS also implemented new rules requiring lower-performing Head Start programs to compete for funding as part of an effort to improve the quality of Head Start programs.

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Follow Kimberly Hefling on Twitter: HTTP://TWITTER.COM/KHEFLING

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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