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Wisconsin wins $22.7M early learning grant

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin will receive $22.7 million in a Race to the Top early learning challenge grant, one of five states to share in the federal money announced by the White House.

The state will use the money to advance initiatives targeting early childhood development, including the YoungStar program that includes rating childcare providers, Gov. Scott Walker's office said Thursday in a statement.

The Department of Children and Families, which runs YoungStar, will use the money to focus on improving the program designed to better serve high-risk children and strengthen efforts to engage parents in improving their children's early learning and development, Walker's office said.

The money will also be used to help build an early learning and development service delivery system across the Department of Children and Families, Department of Public Instruction and the Department of Health Services.

That system will provide resources to the three agencies to build an early childhood data tracking system that will allow the state to align services and standards across various programs, Walker's office said.

That system will be able to track outcomes of young students that can be then used to improve the programs where most high-risk children are enrolled, Walker said.

"Research shows that children with high needs who participate in high-quality early learning and development programs are more likely to enter school ready to succeed," Walker said in a statement. "It is important that we identify children who are struggling and make sure they get the help they need as early as possible."

Wisconsin state superintendent Tony Evers said the money will significantly strengthen partnerships to help prepare young children for success in school later.

Wisconsin was one of five states awarded money this year under the $133 million grant fund designed to improve quality and expand early learning programs. Nine other states won funding in the first round of awards last year.

The competition called on states to create proposals to improve early learning by coordinating existing programs, evaluating and rating program quality, and increasing access to high-quality programs.

Wisconsin's money will be awarded over a four-year period in accordance with its plan.