The York YWCA is hopeful that the $51.7 million in federal Race to the Top funding could affect local early childhood education.

Pennsylvania education officials announced Thursday the state received the Early Learning Challenge grant from the U.S. Department of Education, which will be used to benefit early childhood education programming across the state.

Ruby Martin, chief program officer at the York YWCA, said she hopes some of that funding could increase the subsidies families receive when they enroll their children in preschool programs. Martin said she also hopes some of the funding will go toward training needed for early education teachers.

The state's goal with the funding is to increase access to quality programs for needy families across the state, said Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq.

In a press briefing Thursday, Dumaresq outlined a plan to increase the communication between struggling elementary schools and other resources in the community using funds from the four-year grant.

Those funds will create Community Innovation Zones to improve student performance in the lowest-performing elementary schools. The buildings will be identified using the overall scores from the school performance profiles, and will then be given a chance to compete for the grant money.

The schools chosen will be expected to improve upon three key areas, said Deputy Secretary Barbara Minzenberg.

Minzenberg said schools will need to outline how they will use grant money to encourage parents to be more involved in student learning, especially for students in kindergarten through third grade. Schools will also need to demonstrate how they will incorporate community resources for the overall wellbeing of the students, such as creating liaisons for health and dental care.

A third component will be an increased collaboration with preschool programs near the elementary schools that qualify.

Martin at the YWCA said the organization would "definitely" support any funding that can help with the transition from preschool to kindergarten, and said she is hopeful students in York will benefit from the new state funds.

Dumaresq said the education department has not yet compiled the list of elementary schools that would qualify for the grant money. But she said schools that scored in the mid-30's and low 40's for their overall scores will most likely be on the list.

At least three schools in York County could qualify: Ferguson K-8, Goode K-8 and McKinley K-8 in the York City School District all received building scores of less than 45.

Superintendent Eric Holmes said he heard about the funding for the first time Thursday. He said he'll be investigating the district's opportunity to take advantage, as an expansion of early childhood education is a goal of the district's recovery plan.

Dumaresq said the requirements for applying and more details on the grant funding will be determined in the coming weeks.

-- Reach Nikelle Snader at nsnader@yorkdispatch.com.