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Jax Daily Record Monday, Aug. 29, 201112:00 PM EST

Florida to apply for early learning Race to the Top

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Gov. Rick Scott wants to apply for $100 million in federal grants through a Race to the Top program for early learning programs.

The grants will be awarded to states that already have early learning programs but could use the grant money to strengthen those programs to help young children, especially low-income and disabled children, prepare for school.

“This is a competitive grant based on the state’s early learning programs and we think Florida is well positioned to receive the award,” said Scott spokeswoman Amy Graham.

Florida currently offers free voluntary pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds for three hours a day.

Before Scott can apply for the grant, he has to engage in a last-minute scramble to convince a skeptical legislative budget committee that it should approve $3.4 million in federal grants to operate a child welfare home visiting program.

To be eligible for the grant, the state must have a home visit program.

The federal grants were previously not approved by the Legislature because the program was considered part of the federal health care reform act. Graham disputed that, saying it had been around prior to the new law.

Scott’s interest in Race to the Top was criticized by one Democratic lawmaker as hypocritical.

Scott has previously rejected other forms of federal spending, such as $2 billion for a high-speed rail project between Tampa and Orlando, and said he was opposed to the federal stimulus program.

“He is picking and choosing what he thinks is politically OK to accept,” said Rep. Scott Randolph (D-Orlando).

Graham said the governor’s decision is rooted in the fact that this is a “non-recurring” revenue source, meaning it is a one-time influx of funds that typically wouldn’t be relied upon to create new positions or long-term programs.

Scott may not have an easy time selling the grant idea to the Legislative Budget Commission, a joint House and Senate group of legislators that meets to approve budget items when legislators are not in session.

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